By Caren Chaffee
February brings to mind Valentine’s Day, Groundhog’s Day and Presidents’ Day … days on the calendar that provide us with good reminders to spread kindness, have some lighthearted fun in the midst of a cold winter or honor our nation’s leaders. However, February is also a time to bring attention to a very serious subject that bears importance: The National Institute of Justice has announced that February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month – certainly not cause for celebration, but an opportunity to bring to light a growing threat to our adolescents’ safety.
Although statistics vary due to differences in defining “violence,” teen dating violence is shockingly prevalent: Approximately one in ten youth in grades 9-12 report being a victim of physical violence from a romantic partner within the previous 12 months (according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) and 20 to 30 percent of youth ages 12 to 21 in relationships reported experiencing psychological abuse in the previous 18 months (according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health).
The preteen and teen years are a formative era. During this time, youth have the opportunity to learn the necessary skills to develop and maintain healthy relationships. When teens can foster positive relationships during their influential adolescence, they have a greater opportunity to make compassionate and cooperative connections with their dating partners during their adult years. Exposure to violence can counteract the development of these skills and could instead initiate a pattern of relationship violence that could extend into adulthood (either as a victim or a perpetrator). Therefore, it is imperative that the cycle of teen dating violence is halted through both prevention and intervention.
There are steps that adults can take to keep adolescents safe from the perils of teen dating violence: Maintaining an awareness of teens’ friends and acquaintances and where they are spending their time; keeping the lines of communication open to allow teens the opportunity to talk to a trusted adult; sharing information about TeenCentral.Net, KidsPeace’s free, anonymous online counseling website for teens (which has a special section on teen dating violence); and directly offering to help if it is suspected they are in a dangerous dating situation are all crucial actions. They might save a youth from becoming involved in a violent relationship or help them to abandon an unhealthy and unsafe partner. They may even help to stop a cycle of violence and impact for future generations.