Happy Valentine’s Day!  Are flowers, candy and romance on your mind today?

It may be for most of you, but for some teenagers, that’s not the story. In 2010, February was officially designated by Congress as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
Many teen relationships- nearly one third – are either unhealthy or violent. Let’s talk about what teen dating violence is, and why it happens.
Teen dating violence includes physical, psychological, sexual abuse, harassment, or stalking persons ages 12-18 in the context of a past or present romantic relationship.
•Physical Abuse: hitting, biting, shoving, pulling hair, scratching, kicking
•Emotional or Psychological Abuse: name calling, bullying, shaming, intentionally embarrassing, constantly monitoring (including on social media)
•Sexual Abuse: forcing a partner to engage in a sexual act without their consent;
•Stalking: Repeatedly following or harassing a partner in a way that causes them reasonable fear for their safety or well-being (including social media).
One in three teenagers (about 1.5 million) in a romantic relationship admits to being in an unhealthy relationship. While both boys and girls can be victims of teen dating violence, girls are far more likely to suffer.  25% of teenage girls are estimated to have been in an abusive relationship. Girls between 16 and 24 are three times more likely to be abused by a boyfriend or other intimate partner.
You may have noticed that teens (even at age 12-14) are entering romantic relationships earlier than most of us did. At that age, they are still developing critical emotional and mental maturities that place them at a disadvantage in dealing with the stresses of a romantic relationship. This leads to an increase in the number of relationships that go badly- sometimes even violent.
Teenage romantic relationships are more likely to turn violent when:
•Teens are not mature enough to communicate their feelings to their romantic partners;
•Teens do not understand how to communicate effectively with their romantic partners;
•Teens are depressed or suffer from anxiety or other emotional problems;
•Teens are pressured by their peers into behaving in ways they ordinarily wouldn’t;
•Drugs or alcohol are being used.
Teens also pay close attention to what they see and hear in the world around them. Violence in entertainment is everywhere and unfortunately has become normalized. They mimic behaviors they see on screen, so it is not unusual for teens to think the unhealthy relationships they see are normal or just a part of life. This is especially true if they are witnessing violent, abusive, or unhealthy relationships at home.
Teens involved in unhealthy or abusive relationships are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, aggression, alcoholism/drug abuse, anorexia or bulimia, thoughts of suicide and sexually transmitted diseases.
Teens in violent or abusive relationships are also more likely to be in unhealthy or abusive relationships later in life. Many domestic abusers report having been sexually, physically, or emotionally abused as a child or teenager. .
It’s difficult to prevent dating violence, but a good start is to be sure both boys and girls understand the importance of trust, respect, and honesty in relationships.
Encourage a line of communication with your teen that doesn’t have strings or punishments attached. Abuse in teenage relationships can cause serious problems down the road, so it is important to leave those lines of communication open.

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