Teen Dating Violence: Awareness is Key to Prevention
Teens can be insular about their own experiences, trying to figure out who they are as they cross from childhood into adulthood, juggling school, friendships, and dating along the way.
They don’t have the benefit of experience, nor the perspective that someone a decade (or two or three) older has either.
Dating, even if it’s so-called normal and relatively free of drama, is tough enough. When violence factors in — and an estimated one in 10 teens will encounter it — that can leave lasting and traumatic effects.
February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. According to Pew Research Group, 35% of teens ages 13 to 17 have some kind of relationship experience (both current or previous). Pew also found:
- 14% are in a serious relationship
- 5% are in a relationship, but it’s not serious
- 16% aren’t dating, but have in the past
- 64% said they’ve never been in a relationship
A fair number may be dating but it’s not always storybook bliss.
Effects of Violence
The effects of teen violence do not stop once the relationship ends or an arrest has been made. Anyone can experience trauma as a result of abuse, but youth carries its own vulnerabilities.
That’s because adolescent brains continue to develop into their mid-twenties. The prefrontal cortex is one of the last areas of the brain which matures. That region covers impulse control and decision making.
Teen brains also react more keenly to stress — including from violence. These changes and shifts occurring in the gray matter can make youth more prone to developing mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and other issues.
Teen Dating Violence
Teen dating violence has a lasting impact. Rape and sexual assault affect youths ages 12 to 19 the most. Ten percent have admitted to experiencing physical violence from an intimate partner within the past year. Girls tend to be victimized more often, and they suffer more lingering behavioral and health issues as a result, including:
- Suicide attempts
- Drug use
- Eating disorders
Signs of Violence
Some signs of a problem are more apparent, like visible bruises and injuries. Others can take a bit more detective work. There are some definite warning signs, however. If a partner does any of the following, he or she may be abusive:
- Shows extreme jealousy
- Constantly monitors communication, often without permission
- Tries to isolate the partner from friends and loved ones
- Often makes false accusations
- Acts possessive
- Tells someone what they can and can’t do
- Inflicts pain
- Pressures or forces sex
Substance Use Disorders
Some people resort to substance use after some kind of trauma. While experiencing violence or abuse is terrible at any time, because teen brains are still developing, drug or alcohol abuse can make problems worse. Because the decision-making and impulse control parts of the brain are not fully formed, drugs or alcohol can interfere with development. Drinking or taking drugs at a younger age can make someone more vulnerable to substance use disorders (SUD) later on.
Signs of a SUD include changes in:
- Behavior. Look out for poor performance in school, skipped classes, getting into trouble, risky behaviors, changes in sleep patterns, mood swings, and anxiety.
- Physical appearance. Look for bloodshot eyes or abnormally small or large pupils, sudden shifts in weight, unusual smells on clothing or body, and slurred speech.
- Social behavior. If they suddenly have different friends and hobbies, get into trouble with the law, or suddenly need money for no real or explainable reason.
Preventing Dating Violence
There’s no simple solution to stopping intimate partner violence, but a number of things can be done to break the cycle. Offering support and services, providing information, and knowing the signs are crucial. The worst thing is to ignore the problem.
Nearly half of dating violence victims experience some form of relationship abuse at a young age, usually between 18 and 24. That goes for both men and women, though women suffer abuse at higher rates. The effects can be long-lasting, leading to mental health problems, substance use behaviors, or troubling relationship patterns.
There are many places to seek help, most or all offering prevention toolkits and contact information (including texting as well as some quick escape options in case of danger) for when help is needed. A few places to get started include:
- pewresearch.org – Basics of Teen Romantic Relationships
- nimh.nih.gov – The Teen Brain: 7 Things to Know
- youth.gov – Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month
- breakthecycle.org – Warning Signs
- mentalhealth.gov – Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders
- getsmartaboutdrugs.gov – How Drugs Alter Brain Development and Affect Teens
- vawnet.org – Preventing and Responding to Teen Dating Violence
- sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Emerging Solutions for Domestic Violence
Mountain Springs Recovery strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.
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