Teens can be vulnerable. The teen years can be a time of learning how to build and experience healthy relationships. Learning this in early adulthood is an important step toward forming lasting and fulfilling relationships as an adult.
The Numbers Are Staggering
The teen years for too many though can be a time of unhealthy relationships. All too often, these unhealthy relationships include violence, stalking, and harassment.
At least one study addresses the subject. The study collected data from 320 teens aged 12 to 18 years of age. The teens who had indicated having some dating experience were asked whether a dating partner had ever spied on them, followed them, damaged their personal property, or gone through their online accounts. A staggering 48% answered in the affirmative. Teen dating violence is common.
Other studies confirm these figures. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 1 in 9 female and 1 in 36 male high school students report having experienced sexual dating violence in the last year.
The CDC study also shows that 26% of women and 15% of men who experience sexual violence as adults, had their first violent experience with a dating partner before the age of 18. The numbers are staggering and the implications for learned violence is very real as teens turn into adults.
Implications For Future Violence
Teen dating violence can turn into adult domestic abuse within a few short years. In teens, stalking and harassing behaviors often manifest as patterns of coercive control over cell phones and other digital platforms. To adults, this may not initially look serious, but its genesis is the same as adult patterns of domestic abuse—power over another. If teens are not able to get help via early intervention or prevention, the abuse can become normalized and patterns are likely to continue into adulthood.
Depression, Anxiety, and Suicidality
Teens who are victims of violent and stalking behaviors by their dating partners show significant mental health issues. According to one study of 1236 randomly selected teens, those teens who were victims of stalking reported more symptoms of post-traumatic stress, mood disorder, and hopelessness. They also reported more alcohol use, binge drinking. Those teens who had been stalked were also more likely to have suffered physical dating violence.
Female stalking victims also reported engaging in sexting and oral sex with significantly more partners than females who are not victims.
Teens Are Trying to Learn What is Normal in a Relationship
Adults might wonder why teens put up with stalking or harassing behavior without reporting it or ending the relationship. It is important for adults to recognize that teens are trying to figure out what is and is not normal in a dating relationship. A teen may not understand that this behavior is not normal and not acceptable. Even if a teen understands that the behavior is not normal, they may not know how to handle the situation.
What Can Parents Do?
Teens push at boundaries and parents often tread lightly around issues of their children’s sexual behaviors. Other parents attempt to control every aspect of their child’s behavior. Neither tack allows teens or their parents to successfully negotiate this terrain.
Many schools now have early preventative programs in place that educate teens about dating violence. These programs help teens understand what is normal, and when things between a couple move toward an abusive relationship. Helping teens understand and find other ways to cope with their feelings, to communicate their feelings, and to feel important and efficacious without resorting to abusive relationships can help.
Adults in the teen’s life must let the teen know that stalking and harassing behavior is not normal. Adults can make themselves available to their teenage children without intruding or controlling their lives. It is important that a teen knows that they can talk to their parents or to another adult about this behavior.
Helping a teen handle a difficult situation can build skills and confidence, leading to healthier relationships in the future.
Help Teens Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Teen dating violence is a growing and complex problem. Like all complex issues, it requires a multi prong approach. But at baseline, helping teens learn better coping patterns in relationships, learning to communicate more effectively, and learning how to handle bad relationships sets a positive template for them for their future relationships.