Dating violence
While most dating relationships established during the teenage years don’t last forever, they can often be looked back on with fond memories. But, according to the American Psychological Association (APA) more than 10 percent of high school students experience physical, verbal or emotional abuse in a dating relationship. This abuse puts the teens at risk of inflicted trauma, shame or psychological distress that can last into adulthood.

“Research consistently shows that traumatic experiences during adolescence can have direct and profound associations with both psychological and physical health issues,” says Benjamin Maxwell, M.D., medical director of inpatient psychiatry at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and assistant professor for the Department of Psychiatry within University of California School of Medicine. “Implications may include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and suicidal ideation, as well as an increased likelihood to develop an eating disorder, engage in risky behaviors or have abusive relationships in the future.”
One of the best ways to help prevent or stop dating abuse is to have the conversation with our teens. We need to arm our teens with knowledge to protect themselves and their friends.
Abuse can occur in all relationships, it can be from one or both partners and abuse doesn’t only have to be physical. Other forms of abuse can be verbal, emotional, psychological, and sexual.
Some examples of abuse are:
•Verbal: calling you names, lashing out with insults, embarrassing you in public, yelling at you. This can also occur through text messages, email or on social media.
•Emotional or psychological: belittling, telling your secrets or sharing private photos, isolation from other friends, demanding access to your passwords,
Angry when you spend time with others, keeping tabs on your whereabouts.
•Physical: Slapping, punching, pushing, grabbing, pulling hair, biting, throwing objects, using weapons, strangulation.
•Sexual (date rape or sexual coercion): Forcing, whether physically, verbally or both, an unwilling partner to participate in sexual activity. Engaging in what the APA calls “emotional blackmail,” such as saying, “if you don’t have sex with me, you must not actually love me,” may be an early indicator.
We must engage our teens with discussions about healthy relationships — the importance of consent, setting boundaries, understanding that abuse is more than physical violence, how to respectfully address and resolve conflicts —before and during their first dating experiences. “This is a great opportunity to emphasize your role as a confidant and ally, go over ‘if this, then that’ scenarios, and ensure teens know they can come to you with questions or concerns,” explains Dr. Maxwell.
If your teen becomes a victim of an abusive dating relationship, there are some important steps you can take.
•First, listen to them and believe them. Many times they will be embarrassed and afraid you will be disappointed in their choices and that you will not believe them. Show them you love them and support them.
•Secondly, make sure your teen knows that abusive behavior is not okay and you are glad they came to you. Reinforce their self-worth and that they deserve better and they did nothing to cause the abuse.
•Thirdly, make a plan to help your child exit the abusive relationship. Ensure your teen’s safety. Reach out for support. Each school has resources you can engage to ensure your child’s safety on campus. If necessary, go to local law enforcement and ask for a restraining order.
Teen dating violence is not a subject we like to address. However, having the conversation and making information available may save your teen from a heartbreaking situation. It can be all too easy for an abused teen to blame themselves for their partner’s actions, or convince themselves their partner will change —because they love them, because they didn’t mean what they did, because abuse only happened once or only when they made them angry. Abuse is never, ever the fault of the victim. And, realistically, most abusers will not change. As caring adults, we can bring a heightened awareness and more conversations to the subject of dating violence and we can empower youth to understand the components of healthy love relationships and not settle for less.
If you or a loved one are a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence, Crisis Services of North Alabama is here to help you. You may reach the Jackson County office at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000.

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