Not young love: Spot unhealthy relationships

Teenage girl holding backpack

In May, the legal age to marry in Georgia rose from 16 to 17 with parental consent. To get married at such a young age, the 17-year-old must be emancipated by the court, and the elder partner can be no older than 21. The couple must also complete a premarital education course. The new law is meant to protect children from the violence and sexual abuse prevalent in young marriages.   

Many marriages where one person is not yet an adult occur because the older partner is trying to control the younger partner for his or her (often his) advantage. In these relationships, abuse is common. In fact, one in ten high school students have experienced physical teen dating violence, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The consequences of such relationships include heart problems, depression, gastrointestinal issues, PTSD and reproductive problems. Teen dating violence is also a risk factor for intimate partner violence in adulthood.

Teen dating violence includes four types of behavior, per the CDC:

Physical violence is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, or using another type of physical force.

Sexual violence is forcing or attempting to force a partner to take part in a sex act, sexual touching, or a non-physical sexual event (e.g., sexting) when the partner does not or cannot consent.

Psychological aggression is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally and/or exert control over another person.

Stalking is a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone close to the victim.

And, those experiencing teen dating violence are more likely to:

Experience symptoms of depression and anxiety

Engage in unhealthy behaviors, like using tobacco, drugs, and alcohol

Exhibit antisocial behaviors, like lying, theft, bullying or hitting

Think about suicide  

According to the CDC, fostering expectations for healthy relationships [pdf] and teaching healthy relationship skills are critical to the prevention of intimate partner violence (IPV). The evidence suggests that acceptance of partner violence, poor emotional regulation and conflict management, and poor communication skills put individuals at risk for both perpetration and victimization of IPV. Therefore, promoting expectations for healthy, non-violent relationships and building skills in these areas can reduce risk for perpetration and victimization of IPV. Previous research shows that strengthening social-emotional, conflict management, and communication skills can also reduce substance abuse, sexual risk behaviors, sexual violence, delinquency, bullying and other forms of peer violence.

To stop teen dating violence before it starts, CDC recommends:

Teach safe and healthy relationship skills

Engage influential adults and peers

Disrupt the developmental pathways toward partner violence

Create protective environments

Strengthen economic supports for families

Support survivors to increase safety and lessons learned

One in four women and one in nine men have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime per the CDC. It occurs in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and it does not require sexual intimacy. If you are in a violent relationship, please call the 24-hour statewide hotline through the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 1-800-334-2836.