Abusive relationships know no age limits. Unfortunately, they often start with teenagers. Youth between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest per capita rate of intimate partner violence. In the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9.4 percent of high school students report being “hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend” in the 12 months prior to the survey. In addition, one in three teenagers report knowing a friend or peer who has been “hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt” by their dating partner. Abusive relationships can occur in person and/or electronically with current or former dating partners.
Risk Factors to Look For
According to the CDC, violence is related to specific risk factors, including teens who:
- Believe it's okay to use threats or violence to get their way or to express frustration or anger.
- Use alcohol or drugs.
- Can't manage anger or frustration.
- Hang out with violent peers.
- Have multiple sexual partners.
- Have a friend involved in dating violence.
- Are depressed or anxious.
- Have learning difficulties and other problems at school.
- Don't have parental supervision and support.
- Witness violence at home or in the community.
- Have a history of aggressive behavior or bullying
Averting Abuse Now and in the Future
Teen dating violence is often the beginning of abusive relationships in adult life. About one in five women and nearly one in seven men who ever experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age, reports the CDC in their 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. Then Vice President Joe Biden, author of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, calls for adult intervention, stating,
We have learned that teens are not immune from abuse in relationships. Teen dating violence is all too common, and ends up leading to vicious and unhealthy cycles for years to come. Our responsibility — as parents, teachers, mentors, and community leaders — is to guide our young people towards respectful relationships free from harassment and abuse; teach them that it’s OK to walk away from a bad situation; and encourage them to speak out when they see a friend in trouble. In many communities, teens themselves are leading the way in organizing their schools and communities to stand against violence. I commend them.
Resources for Parents and Teens
Six videos created by students for the 2010 Massachusetts District Attorney’s Teen Violence Public Service Announcement (PSA) contest are available for free to the public. 200 teens on 35 teams produced PSAs for the contest. The winning entry, “Cry for Help,” was submitted by a group of students from Somerville High School in Massachusetts. The five finalists, “Take A Stand,” “Just Because He Doesn’t Hit You,” “Speak Against Teen Dating Violence,” “End the Cycle of Abuse,” and “She Changed” are also valuable videos to share with teens.
According to the former Massachusetts Middlesex County District Attorney, Gerry Leone, “This was a project for teens by teens, and our hope with the project was to help spark a positive dialogue about healthy relationships… We want to commend all of the students who participated in this project for their leadership in speaking out against teen dating violence. They have helped send a clear message that physical and verbal abuse have no place in a healthy relationship.”
Please share resources that you have found helpful to launch teens on a path to healthy relationships — for life!