News coverage about abusive relationships usually focuses on adults and domestic violence. While that is a serious problem, harmful relationships often start even earlier in the teenage years. Experiencing Teen Dating Violence (TDV) can lead to long-term consequences that carry over into adulthood and continue the cycle of abuse and violence. It can also have other catastrophic effects; teenagers who are exposed to TDV have a higher rate of suicide than their peers who do not experience it.
What is TDV?
TDV is an unhealthy or abusive relationship between teens. The relationship is often volatile, but teens may not understand that some behaviors are not healthy. For example, a young woman may think that her boyfriend teasing her about her weight or constantly talking about her appearance is normal – but it is not. It is a form of emotional abuse that may lead to physical violence.
TDV includes the following four types of behavior:
- Psychological aggression
- Physical violence
- Sexual violence, and
It can take place both physically and emotionally. With the growth of the internet, it is also frequently taking place online with social media platforms. Often teens are afraid or embarrassed to tell friends or family that they are experiencing TDV.
The Connection Between TDV and Suicide
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declares that teen suicide is a public health problem. Suicide is death caused with the intent to die by harming oneself. It is currently the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. In teenagers, it is the second leading cause of death.
One major risk factor in teen suicides is whether the teen encountered any form of TDV. Overwhelmingly, those who had were at a higher risk of contemplating or committing suicide. Aspects of unhealthy relationships seen in TDV are also high-risk factors for teen suicide. These include a history of depression, feelings of hopelessness, impulsive tendencies, isolation, and substance abuse.
Who is at Risk?
There are several risk factors for TDV. Teens from poorer neighborhoods who have witnessed violence are more likely to experience TDV. Also at risk are teens who began dating at an early age, had sex before the age of 16, or are involved in other risky behavior. Learned behavior is also a factor and children who experience trauma or abuse at a young age are more likely to repeat or become victims of the behavior once they reach the teen years.
TDV often involves females more than males. A study done by the CDC found that nearly one in nine female teenagers reported some form of sexual dating violence in the past year. In contrast, only one in thirty-six male teens reported it. The numbers were closer when reporting some other for my physical dating violence. One in eleven females and one in fifteen males reported it.
Historically, there has been a gender paradox between teen males and females concerning suicide. While females have reported having more suicidal thoughts or attempts, it is the males that have a higher rate of suicide. Recently, this gap has narrowed. Males are still more likely to commit suicide, but females are quickly catching up with them.
The highest rates of teen suicide are seen in non-Hispanic white teens. American Indians also have an extremely high rate of teenage suicide compared to other ethnicities. Between 1991 and 2017 suicide attempts by black adolescents rose by over 70%. In contrast, other ethnicities reported either stable or falling numbers. For example, over that time frame, suicide attempts by white teenagers fell by 7%.
The impact of TDV can be long-term and carry over into adulthood. There are several red flags to watch out for that may indicate an unhealthy or abusive relationship. If the TDV is not stopped, it is possible that the relationship could lead to stronger forms of violence or even death. Both the victim and the abuser will also grow into adults that are more likely to continue the cycle of violence.
Suicide impacts everyone. It has a lasting effect on family members and friends and can cause anger, depression, and guilt. The red flags for teen suicide include depression, trauma, substance abuse, family history of abuse or suicide, bullying, low self-esteem, and struggling with sexual orientation.
Being aware of the red flags for TDV and suicide make it easier to identify problems and get the help that is needed. It will also stop the cycle of violence and help start the healing process.