The statistics can be startling: One in five high school girls and one in 10 high school boys has experienced violence or abuse in a teen dating relationship.
Chances are your teen or someone they know may be a victim at the hands of someone they love.
Abuse can be physical, emotional, verbal or sexual. Teen dating abuse is not about someone being mad or two people having an argument – it’s about one person using power to control another person through fear, intimidation or physical force.
Like domestic violence, anyone is susceptible to teen dating violence. Violence can occur in any type of relationship, regardless of ethnicity, socio-economic class or gender.
The effects of teen dating violence and abuse are harmful for teens and not just because of the immediate physical and emotional damage. They can lead to more serious health problems including eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem.
Teens in abusive relationships are more likely to take sexual risks, do poorly in school or experiment with drugs and alcohol.
It is important to have discussions with your teens about what makes a healthy relationship – and, just as important, what makes for an unhealthy relationship. Knowing the difference, and the signs, can help break the cycle of violence.
As a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente in Vacaville, I try to educate my patients about abuse and the growing problem of teen dating violence. Many teens who are dating for the first time don’t even know they are in an abusive relationship. Sometimes it’s hard for them to recognize abuse, especially when it doesn’t involve physical confrontation.
But even something as simple as having a boyfriend or girlfriend who calls, texts, emails or checks in all the time is potentially a warning sign. Although it may seem as if all of the constant contact is a sign of affection, it can be a sign of someone who is trying to control the relationship.
What are other signs of teen dating abuse or violence? Ask your teen some of these questions about their relationship.
Does your boyfriend or girlfriend:
If your teen answered “yes” to any of these questions, he or she may be involved in an abusive relationship. If you have concerns about your teen’s relationship or if your teen knows someone who may be in an abusive relationship, there are many resources for help.
Kaiser Permanente has free, online resources to deal with teen dating violence available at: http://xnet.kp.org/domesticviolence/index.html.
Jeff Gaborko, MD, is a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente at Vacaville Medical Center, a member of Solano Coalition for Better Health.