February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. This is a time and a campaign to amplify the needs of youth and their experiences with dating abuse. In his 2023 National Proclamation, President Joe Biden said “By recognizing the signs of dating and domestic violence, setting positive examples of healthy relationships that lift up instead of tear down, and making clear that abuses of power are never acceptable, we can build a culture where respect is the norm, dignity is the rule, and safety is the expectation – both online and offline.”
Dating violence is more common than many may think, especially among teens and young adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 16 million women and 11 million men who report experiencing intimate partner violence say it first happened before they were 18. These include instances of physical violence, sexual violence and stalking. Youth who are female, LGBTQ or unsure of their gender identity are all at a higher risk of experiencing teen dating violence, the CDC says. Dating abuse is an attempt by abusive partners to gain or maintain power and control and it comes in many forms. It can include physical, emotional, sexual or digital abuse. Abuse usually isn’t isolated – it forms a pattern of behaviors that often make the victim question their own self worth and become further established in the abusive relationship.
Teaching children and young people about healthy relationships and consent should start early with age-appropriate messages. Healthy relationship programs in schools aim to prevent or reduce teen dating violence by increasing awareness. Prevention is important because according to the CDC, teen dating violence has both serious short-term and long-term consequences. Even if programs can’t prevent incidents of violence from occurring, teaching young people about the signs of unhealthy relationships and the resources available, makes them better equipped to respond when needed to help their friends and themselves. Education and conversations around healthy relationships can also help dismantle damaging norms. As a society we have normalized so many unhealthy relationship behaviors that are key early warning signs of abuse – possessiveness, intensity, guilting. We need young people to understand that these behaviors are not ok.
While healthy relationships tend to have a positive effect on emotional development and future relationships, abusive relationships often do the opposite. Dating violence victims are likely to experience suicidal thoughts, antisocial behaviors, depression and anxiety, and engage in unhealthy behaviors such as alcohol and drug use. Adolescents in abusive relationships often carry these unhealthy patterns of violence into future relationships. Ultimately they can end up the victims or perpetrators of adult intimate partner violence.
Teen dating violence is an issue that impacts everyone – not just teens. Parents, teachers, friends and communities are impacted as well. Together we can raise awareness about teen dating violence and promote safe, healthy relationships. Everyone can make a difference by reaching out to young people in simple ways.
Discussing the warning signs of dating abuse (all kinds, not just physical)
Creating a positive connection to the issue – talk about the characteristics of healthy teen relationships, not just abusive ones.
Discuss how communication works in a relationship as well as consent, boundaries, respect, trust and honesty.
Talking about how the media portrays healthy and unhealthy relationships. For example, many popular movies, tv shows, commercials, books and magazines portray stalking as romantic or harmless when it is actually very dangerous.
For more information about teen dating violence please visit loveisrespect.org
If you or a teen you know is involved in an abusive relationship there is 24/7 help available by calling 1-866-331-9474 or by texting LOVEIS to 22522.