In addition to February being the month we all think of our sweetheart, were you aware it is also Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month? Not to be a downer, but it is a very real problem that faces many of our teens and many parents don't realize.
Teen dating violence and abuse is a pattern of destructive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner. Though it's defined as a pattern, that doesn't mean the first instance of abuse is not dating violence. This just acknowledges that dating violence usually involves a series of abusive behaviors over time. This can impact their mood, academic performance, social supports, and their family lives. It often goes unnoticed and unreported. And like any abuse, it is often kept secret, minimized, and the victim is blamed by the offender.
The statistics show that one in three teens experience dating violence at some time in between middle school and high school. Only 33 percent of teens who were in an abusive relationship ever told anyone about the abuse. And 81 percent of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don't know that it's an issue.
There are many warning signs of abuse; here are 10 of the more common abusive behaviors:
• Explosive temper by their partner
• Mood swings
• Telling them what to do
• Making false accusations
• Checking their cell phone calls, texts, and/or email without permission
• Constantly putting them down
• Extreme jealousy or insecurity
• Isolating them from family or friends
• Physically hurting them in any way
The cycle of violence can begin within a matter of only weeks and can continue for several years. This begins with the usual courting or romance stage that happens in most relationships. It's better known as the Honeymoon Stage. It is this stage that may keep a partner hoping the couple can return to being that romantic, happy couple again after the abuse begins. The hope is the partner can return to this romantic behavior because it happened before. They want to believe this is their true nature. The next stage is the Tension Building Stage. Here is where the behaviors of power and control begin with higher conflict, mood swings, and the beginning of minor verbal, emotional, and physical abuses. This can take a very long time to slowly escalate, but can also lead very quickly to the next stage, The Explosion Stage. It is during this stage that more serious verbal, emotional, mental, physical, and sexual violence occurs. Unfortunately, this is a cycle, which repeats again and again. Back in the Honeymoon Stage, the apologies, gifts, and promises it will never happen again occur. This then perpetuates the pattern, with the abusive partner being remorseful and again romantic and caring.
The immediate consequences to those experiencing abuse are obviously short term but also have long lasting effects. Those consequences may include:
• Isolation from family and friends
• School performance declining
• Drug and alcohol abuse
• Teen pregnancy
• Excuses for the abusive partner, allowing further abuse
• Changes in appearance, including clothing and makeup
• Depression and anxiety
• Sexually Transmitted Diseases
• Higher suicide attempts
• Eating disorders
• Risky sexual behaviors
• Further domestic violence incidents
• An increase in the severity of violence/abuse later in life
There are many resources to help teens and their families who find themselves facing these issues of abuse or violence. Nationally, there are many, but here are a few, National Network to End Domestic Violence which includes information on staying safe from technological stalking and abuse. LGBTQ specific resources are the Anti-Violence Project and Show Me Love!. Love Is Not Abuse, loveisrespect.org a combo Web site of Break The Cycle and National Dating Abuse Helpline.
Local resources in metro Denver are the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and Project PAVE. Closer to our side of town is The Women's Crisis and Family Outreach Center based in Castle Rock. They also have a 24 hour crisis line for abuse victims at 1-888-247-7472.
The most important thing to remember is the abuse is not the fault of the person being abused and there is help available to move onto healthier relationships.