Speaking Up to Prevent Teen Dating Violence

February 2, 2015

Couples just about everywhere are making plans for Valentine’s Day. But February is also the perfect time to talk with your teenagers about relationships. Each year, the month that so prominently celebrates love also brings with it increased pressure for many to find relationships, especially teens still learning the ropes of dating and relationships.

Without knowledge about constructive relationship-building, many teens find themselves experiencing dating violence or other forms of abusive relationship behavior, often without even realizing it. That’s why it’s vital that teens and their parents, educators, caregivers and community leaders recognize February as National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.

The observance is an opportunity to help community members learn how to identify and prevent teen dating violence and is organized by Break the Cycle, a national non-profit that provides dating abuse programs exclusively to young people.

Recent research confirms that dating violence can happen to teenage boys or girls in a romantic, dating, or sexual relationship anytime, anywhere.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) reveals that 13 percent of females and 7.4 percent of males in high school experienced physical dating violence one or more times during the 12 months before the survey. The violence included being hit, slammed into something, or injured with an object or weapon on purpose. Furthermore, nearly half of all teens in relationships say they know friends who have been verbally abused.

In Georgia, the rates of teen dating violence also mirror national statistics from the CDC. The Georgia Department of Public Health’s (DPH) 2013 YRBSS data for physical dating violence show that 12.9 percent of females and 11.6 percent of males in high school reported intentionally being physically hurt by someone they were dating or going out with one or more times during the past 12 months. Of the respondents, the prevalence of physical dating violence in Georgia among Hispanic high school students (18.1%) was significantly higher as compared to non-Hispanic White (10.7%) and non-Hispanic Black (9.6%) high school students.

These statistics reveal an alarming pattern of unhealthy relationship behaviors happening to teens at a young age, as well as serve as a precursor to future behaviors that may have lifetime impacts on teens as they grow into adulthood.

Teens experiencing dating violence may often think behaviors like teasing and name calling are a normal part of a relationship; however, these behaviors can become abusive and develop into more serious forms of violence. Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety and are at a higher risk for future victimization during college. They may also engage in unhealthy behaviors such as using tobacco, drugs, and alcohol.

Several national and local organizations are stepping up and speaking out about teen dating violence and offering interventions to help teens learn how to define respectful and non-violent dating relationships.

The CDC's teen dating violence prevention initiative, Dating Matters, targets 11 to 14-year-olds in high-risk urban communities at risk for experiencing teen dating violence. The initiative provides preventive strategies for individuals, peers, families, schools, and neighborhoods and is already being implemented in Baltimore, Md., Chicago, Ill., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and Oakland, Calif.

At the community level, the Children’s Safety Network is empowering teenagers to recognize teen dating violence as a pattern of controlling behavior exhibited towards one teenager by another in a dating relationship. This pattern consists of three major types of teen dating violence including physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Through its Family Violence Prevention program, the Kaiser Foundation offers a variety of resources for teen dating violence prevention awareness. Additionally, the organization has made available a radio interview exploring the characteristics and warning signs of teen dating violence on Total Health Radio. The interview features interviewee Alexa Sueda, M.D., OB/GYN with Kaiser Permanente and intimate partner violence lecturer.

To continue the national conversation on teen dating violence through new media, the Kaiser Foundation is hosting a Twitter chat on Friday, Feb. 13 from noon to 1 p.m. PST featuring Brigid McCaw, M.D., medical director for the Northern California Family Violence Prevention Program at Kaiser Permanente.

If you or someone you know are in an abusive relationship and want help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). To learn more about Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and prevention strategies, visit Break the Cycle’s Teen Dating Violence Month website at www.teendvmonth.org.

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