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“They’re Just Kids:” The Dangers of Minimizing Teen Dating Violence

By Chyna Snell

Abuse in intimate relationships does not discriminate by age. High school students, many of whom are navigating young love for the first time, experience violence at the hands of their romantic partners that we need to take as seriously as the domestic abuse that adults experience. According to DoSomething.org, an alarming 1.5 million adolescents have admitted to being intentionally harmed in the past year by someone they were involved with romantically.

The forms that teen dating can take are varied. Emotional abuse can include verbal insults and threats, yelling and engaging in behaviors to isolate the victim from other people. Stalking also falls under the category of the emotional abuse that teenagers can become victim to. Physical forms of abuse range from scratching, shoving, shaking, kicking and hitting. Increasingly, digital abuse is becoming an unfortunate reality for many adolescents. This can be both emotional and sexual, spanning from persistent texts and phone calls, incessant pressure to send intimate photos, and even utilizing GPS to engage in stalking behavior.

What are the long term effects of abusive teenage relationships?

The experiences that pre-teens and teens have in relationships can stick with them and inform their concepts about what they should expect from relationships. This can lead to a continued pattern of unhealthy relationship formation and repeated abuse from romantic partners in later stages of their lives. When a pattern of abuse is formed in adolescence, the likelihood that violence will be experienced from a future intimate partner increases, as does the intensity and severity of the abuse experienced. Teenagers who experience abuse are more susceptible to higher rates of substance abuse, violent behavior, suicidality and promiscuity, reported DoSomething.org. It doesn’t have to be this way, and the lack of awareness surrounding teen dating violence is something that we can fight against.

How do we prevent it?

Teens are likely to remain in abusive relationships for several reasons. Fear of the abuser can be a huge barrier to reporting dating violence. Teenagers need healthy relationship models. In addition to positive relationship role models, it is crucial that we educate adolescents on what unhealthy relationships look like, as well. Adolescence is a time in which peer influence tends to  be the primary source of information on what intimate relationships should be like, how one should behave in relationship, and what to expect from that relationship.

Failure to take teen dating violence as seriously as domestic violence can have devastating outcomes. This February, we acknowledge Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month in the hopes of decreasing the rates of abuse among young people in relationships.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

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