Dating is an inevitable part of life that many experience for the first time as a teenager. Healthy relationships, however, require hard work, communication, and a level of maturity that may not be present in teens. As a result, many teen relationships – nearly one third – are characterized as either unhealthy or violent. Understanding what teen dating violence is, why it happens, and what it means for those involved is an important first step in prevention.
Teen dating violence “includes physical, psychological or sexual abuse; harassment; or stalking of any person ages 12 to 18 in the context of a past or present romantic or consensual relationship.”
- Physical Abuse: hitting, biting, shoving, hair pulling, scratching;
- Emotional or Psychological Abuse: name calling, bullying, shaming, intentionally embarrassing, constant monitoring;
- Sexual Abuse: forcing a teen partner to engage in a sexual act against or without their consent;
- Stalking: Repeatedly following or harassing a teen partner in a way that causes them reasonable fear for their safety or well-being.
Teen dating violence can be done in person or, with the explosion of social media and telecommunication, electronically. Social media is a hotbed of violent and abusive activity, especially for teenagers who are new to relationships and unsure of how to handle their feelings most appropriately.
Why Does Teen Dating Violence Happen?
One in three teenagers – nearly 1.5 Million – in a romantic relationship admits to being in an unhealthy relationship. While both boys and girls can be victims of teen dating violence, girls are far more likely to suffer. Nearly 25% of teenage girls are estimated to have been in an abusive relationship. In fact, girls between 16 and 24 are three times as likely than any other demographic to be abused by a boyfriend or other intimate partner.
Once a milestone reserved for high schoolers, romantic relationships have slowly begun to bloom earlier in teens’ lives, sometimes as early as the age of 12 or 13. Teens (and in some cases pre-teens) are still developing critical emotional and mental maturities that place them at a disadvantage in dealing with the stresses of a romantic relationship. This leads to an increase in the number of relationships that go south. Teenage romantic relationships are more likely to turn violent when:
- Teens are not mature enough to communicate their feelings to their romantic partners;
- Teens to not understand how to communicate effectively with their romantic partners;
- Teens are depressed or suffer from anxiety or other emotional problems;
- Teens are pressured into behaving in ways they ordinarily wouldn’t by their peers; or
- Drugs or alcohol are introduced.
Teens are also sponges – they absorb what they see and hear in the world around them. Violence in entertainment is everywhere and, unfortunately, has been normalized. Teens mimic behaviors they see on screen, so it is not uncommon for teens to think the unhealthy relationships that are portrayed are normal or just a part of life everyone is subject to deal with. This belief is amplified if teens are witness to violent, abusive, or unhealthy relationships at home.
Consequences of Teen Dating Violence
Teens involved in unhealthy or abusive relationships are more likely to suffer from debilitating or limiting long-term consequences. These include:
- Alcoholism or drug abuse;
- Anorexia or bulimia;
- Thoughts of suicide; and
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
Teens who are in violent or abusive relationships are also more likely to be in unhealthy or abusive relationships later in life. Many domestic abusers report having been sexually, physically, or emotionally abused as a child or teenager. Additionally, a teenager who commits teen dating violence may also face serious criminal consequences.
Preventing Teen Dating Violence
Teenagers aren’t always the most forthcoming with authority figures, so it is important to encourage open and free communication. Many victims of teen dating violence do not seek assistance or guidance because they are embarrassed, afraid of the repercussions from parents, or fearful of what their peers will think. Talking to teens – and making sure both boys and girls understand the importance of trust, respect, and honesty in relationships – can help to lay a foundation for intimate relationships. Encourage teens to speak to adults with whom they have an admiration and trust.
If teens are afraid of punishment from their parents they may not speak out when in need. Encourage a line of communication that doesn’t have strings or punishments attached. Abuse in teenage relationships can cause serious problems down the road, so it is incredibly important to leave lines of communication open to stop issues before they may start.