February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. This is a very real problem affecting teenagers in communities across the country including here in Central Massachusetts. Teen dating violence is characterized as the physical, sexual or psychological/emotional violence within a dating relationship. There are a wealth of resources available online to help you better understand the problem including tips on recognizing the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship and strategies to help your teen break free.
According to Waltham-based REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, an organization committed to advancing the safety, healing and empowerment of those who experience domestic or relationship violence, a recent national survey showed one in 10 teens reported being hit or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend at least once in the 12 months before the survey. Additionally, during the 12 months before the survey, one in 10 teens reported they had been kissed, touched, or physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to at least once by someone they were dating. We spoke with Jessica Griffin, PsyD, for some insight into this national phenomenon:
What is the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship?
Dr. Griffin: A healthy relationship should not hurt. A healthy relationship is built on a foundation of trust and mutual respect. A healthy relationship is a loving one where your partner is not excessively negative, listens to you, compromises with you, does not make fun of your interests, does not get angry if you spend time with your friends, is proud of your accomplishments or successes, does not need to know where you are all the time, does not threaten you or make you feel unsafe, and when you do argue does so respectfully. Pay attention to how you feel with your partner - you should feel good: happy, safe, and secure. If you are feeling bad about yourself, anxious, unsafe, or scared, these are major red flags. Also, if you feel disrespected in your relationship, this may be an indication that you are in a dysfunctional or unhealthy relationship.
What are some potential warning signs of TDV?
Dr. Griffin: Teen dating violence has many faces including physical abuse (hitting, kicking, forceful grabbing, or restraint), emotional/psychological abuse (name-calling, put-downs, insults, bullying, intentionally embarrassing you, shaming, or isolating you from friends and family), sexual assault or abuse (forced sexual encounters, taking sexually explicit photographs without consent), stalking (harassing or threatening, showing up unannounced, keeping track of their whereabouts), and digital abuse (controlling who your partner talks to or is "friends" with online, tracking their whereabouts based on their social media status updates, posting negative comments about your partner via social media outlets).
How can parents help?
Dr. Griffin: Parents can help by educating children early, prior to adolescence, about what makes for a healthy relationship. Parents can talk with their children about developing respectful loving relationships, before they start dating. Keep in mind that children learn what they see. By modeling healthy, positive, loving relationships at home, children are more likely to seek healthy relationships in adolescence and adulthood. For youth exposed to violence or other dysfunctional relationships among adults at home, they are at much greater risk of being victims of violence in their teenage or adult relationships.
What can teens do to break the cycle?
Dr. Griffin: It is important to communicate about our boundaries and expectations in a relationship. Set clear boundaries in your relationships. If you partner does not respect these boundaries, it may be necessary to end the relationship. For those who believe that you are in an abusive relationship, it is critical to establish a safety plan - letting others who you trust in your life know your whereabouts and your intention to end the relationship. It may also be appropriate to seek professional consultation.
When is the time for a clinical or legal intervention?
Dr. Griffin: Teen dating violence produces toxic stress which can result in a number of physical health (e.g., headaches, stomachaches, sleep and appetite disturbance, increased drug and alcohol use) and psychological health (e.g., anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts) outcomes. If you feel threatened or fearful in any way, it is time to involve professionals. If you are concerned about your safety, contact the authorities immediately. To make a referral to a therapist for evidence-based trauma-focused treatment (in Massachusetts), parents, youth, or professionals can contact 855-LINK-KID, a statewide centralized referral system for traumatized children and adolescents. There are great national resources too, such as: test
- loveisrespect.org; National Domestic Violence Hotline
- National Sexual Assault Hotline
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center
- CDC’s Dating Matters: Strategies to
- Promote Healthy Teen Relationships www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/datingmatters
- The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (www.nctsn.org)