February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, which highlights the importance of educating teens and young adults about healthy relationships and the effects that dating abuse can have throughout a person’s life.
Nearly 1 in 3 teens reported experiencing violence in dating relationships, including verbal, physical, and sexual violence.1 In addition, young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of dating violence. Teenage relationships are unique, no matter their background, because they help form beliefs that will impact relationships throughout their life spans. Young adults often lack access to resources and face unfamiliar pressures. Experiencing unhealthy relationships and sexual violence can have long-term consequences, including issues with body image, identity, personal values, and ability for intimacy.
ADULTS HAVE A ROLE
Adults have an important role in reaching teens as they begin to date and explore their sexuality. When engaging in conversations with teenagers and young adults, these are some things to keep in mind:
Honesty is key. Teenagers are seeking guidance from everyone they encounter, even unknowingly. To be trusted and valued by them, it is necessary to be as open and honest as possible. Issues of verbal, physical, and sexual violence can uncomfortable to discuss, but giving teens in or thinking about relationships a place to express all of their concerns will help them start to navigate their own thoughts on boundaries.
Teen relationships matter. A person’s relationship should be taken seriously, no matter their age. By dismissing a young relationship, you can also be dismissing the dangerous aspects of violence within that relationship. Respect their assessment of the significance of their relationship.
Be a role model and a resource. Teenagers often form their opinions about what is normal in relationships from entertainment and their peers. When they see things that support abuse from these different sources, they accept these behaviors in their own relationships. Adults have the opportunity to counter these influences by delivering positive messages about what constitutes healthy and normal behaviors.
Teens need personal boundaries. Boundaries allow everyone to keep their individuality and develop self-understanding. Explaining to teenagers the benefits of boundaries allows them to make considerate choices in their relationships. It gives them an opportunity to honor their healthy attitudes and beliefs by expressing their limits assertively.
At the core, all young adults and teenagers need trusted adults in their lives. When sexual violence occurs in dating relationships and beyond, teenagers should be able to identify valid support systems. Whether in a close, established, or causal position in their lives, adults have the ability to support and influence the teenager in handling current and future relationships. Letting them know that you care, you’ll listen, and you want to help can make a big difference.
For more information on teen dating violence and awareness activities, visit:
And for more on helping to build healthy relationships among teenagers, visit Futures Without Violence for their Start Strong toolkit.