February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month by Larry D. Jones, MPH, Health Director February 4, 2014
Dating violence can happen to any teen, at anytime, anywhere. But it doesn't have to happen at all. Surveys show one in four teens reports verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse from a dating partner each year, a figure that exceeds rates of any other type of youth violence.
This goes for both genders. Each year, women experience more than 4 million physical assaults and rapes because of their partners, and men are victims of nearly 3 million physical assaults. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence -- almost triple the national average.
The effects of teen dating violence hurt not just the young people who are victimized but also their families, friends, schools and communities. Dating violence can have a negative effect on health throughout life. Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to do poorly in school, and report binge drinking, suicide attempts, physical fighting, and current sexual activity.
Teens who perpetrate dating violence may also carry these patterns of violence into future relationships. Survivors of domestic violence face high rates of depression, sleep disturbances, anxiety, flashbacks, and other emotional distress. Chronic conditions like heart disease or gastrointestinal disorders can become more serious due to domestic violence.
Every year, more than 3 million children witness domestic violence in their homes. Children who live in homes where there is domestic violence also suffer abuse or neglect at high rates.
A 2005 Michigan study found that children exposed to domestic violence at home are more likely to have health problems, including becoming sick more often, having frequent headaches or stomachaches, and being more tired and lethargic.
Without help, girls who witness domestic violence are more vulnerable to abuse as teens and adults. Without help, boys who witness domestic violence are far more likely to become abusers of their partners and/or children as adults, thus continuing the cycle of violence in the next generation.
That's why now is an excellent time for adults to talk to teens about the importance of developing healthy, respectful relationships. You may think that they are too young, but keep in mind that 72 percent of students in eighth and ninth grade report that they are dating by the time they are in high school, and 54 percent of students report dating violence among their peers. Another important fact to remember is that most domestic violence incidences are never reported.
Be aware of the relationships your children have with their dating partners and take note if any major changes in attitude or demeanor occur. Before violence starts, a teen may experience controlling behavior and demands. One partner may tell another what to wear and who to hang out with. Over time, the unhealthy behavior may become violent.
Help change the facts: Speak up, speak out, and make a difference for domestic violence victims. There are many resources available to help you talk to your teen about dating violence.
Today is “Time to Talk Day,” but you can take advantage of anytime that you and your child are together to talk about the importance of healthy relationships. Ten minutes in the car on your way to dropping them off at school, during an evening television show, or even at the dinner table; talk to them now to prevent dating violence in the future.
Information from: http://www.cdc.gov/features/datingviolence/,
http://www.safehorizon.org, and http//www.loveisrespect.org/.
Larry Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.