The teenage years are supposed to be filled with laughter, fun and testing the boundaries of parental control. It’s also a time when many boys and girls will start dating. For some teens, the beginning of couple relationships is about as far away from fun as it could possibly be.
Some teenagers may think that teasing and name-calling are somehow linked with a fondness for someone, and that might have been true when they were six or seven years old. However, by the time a young girl or boy reaches their teenage years, that kind of behavior can take on a much different tone. What was once an awkward attempt at gaining someone’s attention can turn into physical and sexual abuse.
According to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that is happening more than you might think.
Twenty-one percent of high school girls have been physically or sexually assaulted by someone they dated -- a figure twice as high as previously estimated.
Ten percent of high school boys also reported being physically or sexually assaulted by someone they had dated.
The authors of the new report noted that the CDC has changed the way it phrases its questions about teen dating violence, leading more students to report assaults.
Sadly, teens that have experienced dating violence are at risk for other serious problems as well. Research has shown that they are more than twice as likely to consider suicide. They are also more likely to get into fights, carry a weapon, use alcohol, marijuana or cocaine and to have sex with multiple partners. Not the kind of life any parent would want for their teenager or the one that they would truly want for themselves.
Researchers don't know if any of these events causes the others. While it's possible that dating violence could cause thoughts of suicide, it's also possible that children who are depressed are more likely than others to fall into abusive relationships, says Adiaha Spinks-Franklin, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston who was not involved in the study.
Assaults by romantic partners often aren't isolated events. Many teens reported being assaulted multiple times, according to the study, based on the CDC's Youth Behavior Risk Surveillance System using questionnaires answered by more than 13,000 high school students.
"If there is violence once, there is likely to be violence again," Spinks-Franklin says. "It has to be taken very seriously."
Spinks-Franklin says she has seen violence even among relationships between 10- and 11-year-olds.
"If a parent is concerned that a child is in an unhealthy relationship, they need to address it, but do it in a way that doesn't make the child shut down," she says. "They need to feel safe telling a parent."
Teens often hide the abuse from their parents, Spinks-Franklin says. Teens may not be able to confide in friends, either, because abusers sometimes isolate their victims from loved ones. Teens are sometimes more willing to talk to doctors, especially if their parents are not in the room.
Some schools have taken the lead in promoting awareness of and education on teen dating violence. Pediatricians can also discuss this important topic with their patients and parents. If time is limited, brochures in the waiting room can offer information and open the door for questions.
"This study makes it even more important for parents to ask lots of questions and get to know their teen's friends and significant others, and not ignore anything that makes them uncomfortable," says McCarthy, a pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital. "They also shouldn't ignore any changes in their teen's behavior."
Dating violence may never be eliminated one hundred percent, but can be considerably lessoned when teens, families, organizations, and communities work together to implement effective prevention strategies.
One of the best strategies for prevention is for parents and teens to be able to communicate about serious topics without judgmental attitudes or closed-minded opinions. Your teen wants your help even if he or she doesn’t know how to ask. They'll appreciate you being there before and when they need you.
The new study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.
Sources: Liz Szabo, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/03/02/teen-dating-violence-study/24127121/