The teen years are a time of exploration, and forming friendships and intimate relationships is a large part of the adolescent experience. While this can be a very joyful time, for some young people, what starts out as a positive relationship can turn dangerous.
February has been set aside as National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen dating violence includes four types of behavior:
- Physical violence is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking or using another type of physical force.
- Sexual violence is forcing or attempting to force a partner to take part in a sex act, sexual touching or a non-physical sexual event (e.g., sexting) when the partner does not or cannot consent.
- Psychological aggression is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally and/or exert control over another person.
- Stalking is a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone close to the victim.
Sadly, dating violence among teenagers is far more common than you might expect. The statistics: Nearly 1 in 11 female and 1 in 15 male high schoolers experienced physical dating violence last year, while 1 in 9 female and 1 in 36 male students were victims of sexual dating violence.
In addition, technology has made it possible for abusers to reach their victims 24/7 and abuse them on a wide scale through social media.
According to Elissa Smilowitz, Director of Triage and Emergency at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, “The goal of perpetrators of verbal and physical abuse is to make their partners feel worthless so they can be controlled,” says. “The abuser, who often has low self-esteem, is threatened by any sign of independence from their significant other, and that jealousy causes them to engage in physical, sexual, psychological and/or emotional violence.”
How is a parent to know if their child is being abused? Some signs:
- Your child’s partner is extremely jealous or possessive.
- You notice unexplained marks or bruises.
- Your child’s partner emails or texts excessively.
- You notice that your child is depressed or anxious.
- Your child stops participating in extracurricular activities or other interests.
- Your child stops spending time with other friends and family.
- Your child’s partner abuses other people or animals.
- Your child begins to dress differently.
It can be difficult to convince a teen that their partner is being abusive. “We have to help them come to the conclusion on their own that this is an unhealthy relationship and that it’s OK to seek out help,” says Smilowitz. “Through individual and group therapy, we can help give them the strength and tools to recognize that their relationship is toxic and learn what a loving, respectful relationship is like.”
Smilowitz advises parents to monitor their kids’ social media usage, and to keep an open dialogue. “If you notice changes in behavior, such as isolation and depression, ask them directly what’s going on. They need to know you are there to listen to them without judgment.”
If you are concerned that your child or teen may be the victim of abuse, call North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center at (516) 626-1971.
You can also call the 24-hour hotline at the Safe Center LI at (516) 542-0404.