Teen Dating Violence

  • By:  Melissa Waddell, WHNP

Effective prevention strategies are key to eliminating this widespread problem.

Unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime. As teens develop emotionally, they are influenced by experiences in their relationships. Healthy relationship behaviors can have a positive effect on a teen’s emotional development. Unhealthy, abusive, or violent relationships have short- and long-term negative effects on a developing teen.

Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. They might also engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as using tobacco, drugs, and alcohol and may exhibit antisocial behaviors or think about suicide.

Teen dating violence is defined as the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional aggression within a dating relationship, including stalking. It can occur in person or electronically and might occur between a current or former dating partner. Several different words are used to describe teen dating violence: relationship abuse, intimate partner violence, relationship violence, dating abuse, domestic abuse, and domestic violence, to name a few.

Teen dating violence is widespread with serious long-term and short-term effects. Many teens do not report it because they are afraid to tell friends and family. The 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that nearly 12 percent of high school females reported physical violence and nearly 16 percent reported sexual violence from a dating partner in the 12 months before they were surveyed. For high school males, more than 7 percent reported physical violence and about 5 percent reported sexual violence from a dating partner.

A CDC Report found among victims of contact sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, nearly 23 percent of females and 14 percent of males first experienced some form of violence by that partner before age 18.

TDV is common. It affects millions of teens in the U.S. each year. The burden of TDV is not shared equally across all groups, however. Sexual minority groups are disproportionately affected as are some racial/ethnic minority groups.                           

Certain factors may increase teens’ risk of experiencing and perpetrating teen dating violence. A number of studies have looked at the relationship between teen dating violence and community, family, peer, and individual risk factors. A lack of longitudinal data and a reliance on self-report data limits the causal connections that can be made between risk factors and teen dating violence. Teens that seem to be at higher risk for dating violence are those that:

• experience stressful life events or show symptoms of trauma (including past history of sexual abuse or prior sexual victimization);

• live in poverty, come from disadvantaged homes, or receive child protective services;

• are exposed to community or neighborhood violence;

• participate in risky behaviors (e.g., substance abuse, alcohol use, violence);

• begin dating at an early age;

• participate in sexual activity prior to age 16;

• have problem behaviors in other areas;

• have a friend involved in dating violence;

• participate in peer violence or have violent friends;

• believe that dating violence is acceptable or are more accepting of rape myths and violence against women;

• begin menstruating at an early age (for women);

• have been exposed to harsh parenting; inconsistent discipline; or lack supervision, monitoring, and warmth;

• have low self-esteem, anger, or depressed mood;

• use emotional disengagement and confrontational blaming as coping mechanisms;

• exhibit maladaptive or antisocial behaviors;

• have aggressive conflict-management styles; and/or

• have low help-seeking proclivities.

In order to decrease teen dating violence, we need to teach healthy relationship skills and change the norms about violence. Teens often think some behaviors, such as teasing and name-calling, are a “normal” part of a relationship. Parents and supportive adults need to talk to teens about the importance of developing healthy, respectful relationships.

The Centers for Disease Control Division of Violence Prevention is leading an initiative called Dating Matters. This aims to develop, implement, and evaluate a comprehensive approach to promoting respectful, nonviolent dating relationships and decrease emotional, physical, and sexual dating violence among youth in high-risk urban communities.

It also aims to identify and validate community level indicators of teen dating violence. Ultimately teen dating violence can be prevented when teens, families, organizations, and communities work together to implement effective prevention strategies.

For more information about Dating Matters, visit www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/datingmatters/

Melissa Waddell, WHNP. is a nurse practitioner at Atlantic Ob/Gyn located in Va. Beach and Chesapeake. Please call 757-463-1234 or visit www.atlanticobgyn.com.

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