February is a time best known for Valentine’s Day and romance. In 2010, the month of February was also officially designated by Congress as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. As a result, discussions about the rising epidemic of teen dating violence are not only encouraged, but embraced. These discussions focus on the physical, sexual, and psychological abuses that are present in relationships between teenagers across the country. If you are the parent of a teenager, take the initiative this February to speak with your teen about teen dating violence. If you suspect that your teen is committing teen dating violence, make sure you discuss the criminal consequences of such actions with them.
Teen Dating Violence
Teen dating violence is defined to include physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional/psychological abuse between teenage dating partners.
Physical Violence in Teen Dating Relationships
Violence and physical abuse in romantic teenage relationships is a rising problem in America. Each year, approximately one out of every 10 high school students, or 1.5 million teenagers, is physically abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Physical abuse can include hitting, smacking, striking, kicking, hair pulling, and strangling.
It is important to talk to teenagers about teen dating violence and physical abuse. Physical abuse at a young age is often a precursor for intimate violence between adult partners. Teens who abuse their dating partners are more likely to grow up and evolve into adult domestic abusers. This can put families and children at increased risk of harm and land abusers in serious legal trouble. Domestic violence is taken very seriously and can result in criminal consequences, loss of custody, and serious civil damages.
Sexual Abuse in Teen Dating Relationships
Teens on the cusp of their sexual awakening are more likely to experiment sexually and engage in sexual conduct. This can be fine when both teenage partners are willing and consenting participants. When teens are in a romantic relationship, which tend to be short-lived and fraught with complex emotions, there may be pressures to engage in sexual activity. These pressures may come from the dating partner or even expectations from peers. One in ten teenagers involved in a romantic relationship report being “kissed, touched, or physically forced” to have sex against their will by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Emotional Abuse in Teen Dating Relationship
Not all forms of abuse are physical. Emotional and psychological abuse are common and can cause victims to suffer irreparable harms. Examples of behaviors that may be considered emotionally abusive include:
- Name calling,
- Preventing a dating partner from having contact with others,
- Body shaming, and
- Controlling social media and communication.
Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month
Victims of teenage dating violence are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors in an effort to cope with the abuse. Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to:
- Do poorly in school,
- Engage in sexually promiscuous behavior,
- Begin smoking,
- Turn to illicit drugs to escape reality,
- Drink heavily,
- Get into physical fights, and
- Attempt suicide.
In order to combat teen dating violence and reduce the prevalence of these self-destructive behaviors, Congress declared the month of February as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Why February? The decision came on the heels of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2005. Both houses of Congress supported the measure and, in an effort to extend the conversation and protection to teens, declared the first week of February to be Teen Dating Violence Awareness Week. By 2010, the epidemic of dating violence amongst teens had not subsided, so Congress decided to commit the entire month of February to the cause.
Talk To Your Kids During Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month
Talking to your kids about sensitive issues in their lives can be difficult, especially when the conversation moves to their romantic relationships. However, the consequences of teen dating violence can be serious and pose a risk to the health, safety, and well-being of your child. Victims of abuse are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors, and abusers are more likely to hurt others in the future. You can help to prevent teen dating violence by engaging in meaningful conversations with your kids. Take a few moments this February to talk about these important issues with your teens, listen for signs that they may be affected by teen dating violence, and let them know that you are there for them.