Parent, Teacher, Author
When I was about 15, I remember a close friend of mine suddenly becoming withdrawn. Her usual cheerful and social nature changed to a quiet, secretive one. She wouldn’t change clothes in front of anyone in the locker room, but went into the bathroom stall. She seemed to always be with her new boyfriend, and didn’t have time for any of us anymore. It took a few months before I realized what was happening. This boy, who was a couple of years older than her, had started controlling her emotionally, and ended up hurting her physically. Once a few of us realized what was happening, we were able to get an adult involved and eventually get our friend to break up with this boy. I will never forget watching my friend change from a happy young teenager to a scared, nervous girl in the course of a few months.
The recent story of Ray Rice and his physical abuse of his wife has hit a nerve in our culture and gotten us talking about violence in romantic relationships. This is something that we need to be discussing with the tweens and teens in our lives.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2011) nearly 10% of high school student report being physically assaulted by their romantic partner. The incidents are even higher in urban areas of low socio-economic status, with 30% of boys and 28% of girls experiencing violence from their partner. Even though men such as Ray Rice have been headlined as perpetrators, it’s important to know that girls can also be physically violent. One of the greatest risks for a teen to become involved in dating violence is fostering attitudes that accept dating violence, such as the jokey references in a series of tweets about Chris Brown after he was accused of beating up Rihanna several years ago. It is imperative that boys and girls learn that it is never okay to commit a violent act against a partner nor to be subjected to one. Adolescents who are the victims of dating violence are also more likely to be depressed, abuse alcohol, and to have other emotional problems.
Adolescent dating is a time for learning about how to be in a relationship. Teens are building their knowledge and experience as a romantic partner and learning to negotiate boundaries and demands in close relationships. This is a very important time for them to learn that violence, either emotional or physical, is not a healthy part of intimacy. Here are some strategies for parents and other adults to use to prevent dating violence:
It is critical for adolescents who are learning about building healthy relationships to understand what those look like. Model, discuss, and provide guidance on what is involved in respectful, mutual relationships. And don’t be afraid to get involved if you suspect that your child or a friend is the victim of dating violence.
Ali, B., Swahn, M. & Hamberger, M. (2011). Attitudes affecting physical dating violence perpetuation and victimization: Findings from adolescent in high-risk urban communities. Violence and Victims, 26, 669-683.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). YRBSS: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. Retrieved May 31, 2011, from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/yrbs/data/index.htm
Wekerle, C. & Tanaka, M. (2010). Adolescent dating violence and violence prevention: An opportunity to support healthy outcomes. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, & Trauma, 19, 68-898.