Valentine’s Day may be February 14th, but sometimes it feels like the whole month is dedicated to the subject of love and dating.
While adults might feel pressure to get coupled up, engaged or married this month, teens are in an even tougher situation having to navigate hormones, budding romances and dating. Some teens are still learning what their boundaries are in relationships, and some are uncertain of what healthy relationships even are.
Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month aims to help teens and their parents clear the air about what constitutes a healthy relationship vs. the extreme of dating violence.
As part of the awareness campaign, this week is considered “Respect Week,” and participants are encouraged to read the following message out loud at school or to share online on Valentine’s Day:
“This Valentine’s Day, we’d like to remind you that everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship. If you or someone you know has a question about a relationship, healthy or unhealthy, visit loveisrespect.org or text 'loveis' to 22522. Remember, love has many definitions, but abuse isn't one of them.”
As part of the continuing campaign, the website Loveisrespect.org offers many resources, including contact information for the National Dating Abuse Helpline (1-866-331-9474).
So what is dating violence exactly? The official awareness month website, teendvmonth.org, defines it as “a pattern of abusive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner.”
Lisa Bahar, a licensed marriage and family therapist, said in an email that dating violence can come in many forms including emotional, physical, verbal, sexual and through social media.
“In many instances there is a sense of feeling uneasy, although not all teens or individuals tap into their intuitive instincts of safety,” she said.
In cases where teens grow up in abusive households, they might not know they are in unhealthy relationships.
“If an individual is persuading you to do something that does not feel comfortable or right, and then adds a pressure to it, which may be subtle innuendo to an overt remark or a physical pressure, there is a strong likelihood that violence has escalated,” Bahar said.
“[If] a person wants you to engage in an activity, whether it be sex, drinking, watching something that makes you feel uncomfortable, says demeaning remarks (which may come off as sarcastic and funny) but are hurtful when you think about it, these are all clues that violence is a part of the interaction,” she added.
So how common is teen dating violence? The American Psychological Association released a report last year stating that one in three U.S. adolescents ages 14-20 have been victims of dating violence. And almost the same number of teens were perpetrators as well, starting a vicious cycle.
So what are the warning signs that a teen might be a victim in an abusive relationship? Bahar shares some clues to watch out for, although they can be indications of other problems as well.
“Be aware of isolation, not wanting to speak about the day, disengaging with friends, over eating or under eating, odd behavior that may be drugs, self injurious behavior including cutting, binge/purge, avoiding social contact or if a teen is feeling uneasy, embarrassed, pressured, depressed or anxious,” she said.
She added that in order to gain a sense of control, some teens might act and dress more provocatively, and bully others.
According to the awareness website, some signs of actual abuse include these negative experiences with a dating parter:
- Physically harming you
- Having anger management issues
- Having major insecurity and jealousy issues
- Having mood swings and acting possessive
- Having a partner falsely accusing you
- Trying to control you and telling you what to do
- Invading your privacy by checking your email and phone without asking
- Attempting to lower your self-esteem by putting you down
- Attempting to isolate you from friends and family
It’s important to keep in mind that teen dating violence is not just a short-term problem. It can have a negative long-lasting impact on mental health, according to a study from Cornell University.
The 2012 study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that young women who were previously victims of dating violence later were more likely to suffer from depression symptoms.
The young women were twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts. They were also more likely to binge drink and smoke. They were also more likely to be involved in abusive relationships as adults.
Break the Cycle. About teenDVmonth. Web. February 12, 2014.
Break the Cycle. What Is Dating Violence? Web. February 12, 2014.
Loveisrespect.org. Get Ready for Respect Week 2014. Web. February 13, 2014.
Bahar, Lisa. Email interview. February 11, 2014.
American Psychological Association. One in Three U.S. Youths Report Being Victims of Dating Violence. Web. February 13, 2014.
Cornell Chronicle. Teen dating violence linked to long-term harmful effects. Web. February 13, 2014.
Reviewed February 13, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith