We often think of relationship violence as something that primarily happens between adults, but sadly children and teens are not immune. Just ask Sarah.
Sarah met Jake at the beginning of her freshman year of high school and at first they seemed perfect for each other. Jake was charming, handsome and always made her feel special. Plus, he was a couple years older and could drive. Sarah was smitten.
But as the months went on, Jake’s behavior started to change. He became increasingly possessive and controlling, constantly checking up on her, texting what seemed like every 5 minutes, and accusing her of flirting with other guys.
Then one day, in the middle of a heated argument Jake grabbed Sarah by the arm and pushed her against the wall. She was terrified and didn’t know what to do. She thought about breaking up with him, but Jake begged for her forgiveness and promised to never hurt her again. Sarah wanted to believe him, so she stayed with him.
Unfortunately, Jake’s promises were empty and the abuse continued but in different forms. He would regularly belittle and berate her, and she became increasingly isolated from her friends and family. She was trapped in a cycle of abuse and felt helpless to escape.
Sadly, Sarah’s story is all too common. It’s one of many relationships that experience these behaviors. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about 1 in 12 high school students who have been in a relationship report being physically and sexually harmed by their partner each year.
**Sarah and Jake are just one example of how teen dating violence can escalate. This scenario does not reflect LGBTQ+ teen relationships in which dating violence also occurs.
Recognizing the Signs of Teen Dating Violence
Teen Dating Violence (TDV) can take many forms. It may include physical abuse, but it can also be more subtle and harder to recognize – a large age gap that leads to an uneven power dynamic, abusive and demeaning language, emotional manipulation, gaslighting, or pressure to conform. It can also happen to anyone, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background. And the consequences can be severe – victims of TDV are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, suicide and other mental health problems, as well as substance abuse and problems at school.
In fact, the CDC now lists TDV as an Adverse Childhood Experience which can lead to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance abuse problems that can plague victims into adulthood. The fact that unhealthy teen relationships are so prevalent and potentially harmful makes prevention and intervention essential.
So what can we do to prevent teen dating violence?
It’s important for teens to learn how to recognize both the red and green flags, and to know how to respond if they find themselves in an unhealthy relationship. If you or someone you know is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship and you don’t know how to get out of it, reach out for help. This can be as simple as talking to a trusted adult – like a parent, teacher, or counselor – or reaching out to a domestic violence organization like Human Options. That’s why we’re here.
You can reach our 24-hour toll free support line at (877) 854-3594. We have trained professionals here to help you.
It’s also important for parents to be involved in their teen’s relationships and to have open and honest communication about healthy and unhealthy behaviors. Parents can also model healthy relationships for their children and teach them about things like consent, boundaries, and respect for both themselves and others.
What is Human Options Doing to Help?
At Human Options, we have seen firsthand the devastating impact dating violence can have on teenagers, and we’re committed to helping both teens and parents learn how to prevent and heal from it. Since February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, here are a couple of the ways were stepping up to end the abuse:
Empowering Teens and Parents to Live Lives Free of Violence
Educate Yourself: Attend Human Options “Love Shouldn’t Hurt” Conference
@ Early College High School, 2990 Mesa Verde Dr, Costa Mesa
Feb 11, 2023 – 9:00 am – 2:30 pm
For more information about our #HEALTHYLOVE Campaign visit www.humanoptions.org/LSH2023
On February 11, we hosted our 8th annual “Love Shouldn’t Hurt” conference to help empower teens and caring adults to identify and prevent teen relationship violence and promote healthy relationships. The event will provide tools and knowledge for students to lead healthy, violence-free lives. Caring adults and parents are encouraged to attend as well.
Be an Ally: Join Our Teen Ambassador Program
Calling all middle and high school students: do you want to be an agent of change in your school? Then join our Teen Ambassador Program! We will teach you how to spot the signs of violence and show you what to do when you see it. You can make a difference in the lives of your peers. To find out more about this important leadership role or to register, email us at:[email protected].