Teen dating violence escalates around nation

LISBON — February is national Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention month. Did you know that dating violence is a teen issue? Every year, 1.5 million high school students across the US experience some form of dating violence from a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Women between the ages of 16 and 24 are at greatest risk of becoming dating abuse victims. Violent behaviors within a dating relationship are occurring at earlier and earlier ages as teens start dating at younger ages — 25 percent of 8th and 9th graders say they have been victims of dating violence. That amounts to one in four!

Dating violence doesn’t have to be physical to emotionally damage a victim. Almost half of teen dating violence occurs on school grounds. Imagine a young couple in the hall between classes. They’ve been dating for a few months, and the girl no longer wears makeup. He doesn’t want her attracting the attention of other guys. Her phone buzzes and he grabs it out of her hand and reads the message. He monitors all of her communication. One of her friends wants to do something after school. He tells her she can’t go out with her friends because she is with him now. She is beginning to feel smothered. Things start small and then escalate into more and more emotional abuse and even physical violence.

The victim may not recognize that there is a problem. Sometimes it takes an outside party like a friend or family member to point out that this is not a healthy relationship. It’s often common for victims of abuse to turn to their abusers for comfort even if they have broken off the relationship. By teaching teens what a healthy relationship looks like, we can give them the tools to recognize the warning signs and to seek help if necessary.

The National Crime Prevention Council provides 10 tips for parents to help their teenage children.

1. Learn to recognize the signs of teen dating violence.

2. Talk to your teen before they become involved in a relationship. If it appears your teen is already in a dangerous relationship, assure them you are there to help and express they are not to blame for his or her partner’s behavior.

3. Listen when your teen talks about an uncomfortable situation and assure him or her that you will do everything you can to help them get out of it.

4. Let your child know that domestic violence tends to get worse and rarely goes away on its own.

5. Make resources available that will help teens build emotional strength and self-esteem.

6. Children who believe in their own worth are better able to choose good partners.

7. Be realistic when talking to your teen. Teenagers often have a false picture of romantic relationships. Explain that control and abuse are not love.

8. Talk to your teen about the way he or she should treat and respect others.

9. Be open to all of the questions your child asks. Don’t criticize, judge, or jump to conclusions when they ask about relationships.

10. Try not to criticize or “put down” the abusive partner when talking to your teen. Maintaining a neutral position may help your teen open up about his or her situation.

Just Say YES (Youth Equipped to Succeed), www.justsayyes.org is dedicated to empowering students, parents, and educators. Its mission is to help youth say “yes” to their dreams and “no” to destructive choices, including teen dating violence.

Project Aware Ohio has developed an information brief entitled: Teen Dating Violence: What Schools, Parents, and Youth Need to Know. This can be accessed on the Project Aware website: www.projectaware.org.

The Ohio Domestic Violence Network (ODVN), www.odvn.org believes that ending violence against women and children requires connection with organizations and individuals to create a clear vision and collective voice for social and systemic change. ODVN’s purpose is to support and strengthen Ohio’s response to domestic violence through training, public awareness and technical assistance and to promote social change through the implementation of public policy.

The organizations referred to in this article are excellent sources of information about domestic violence, and all have Facebook pages. Teens should be made aware of these resources.

For information about helping youth to develop assets, reduce risks, and make healthy choices, please like the Columbiana County MHRS Board’s Facebook Page and visit the Board’s website at www.ccmhrsb.org.