Fifteen year-old Alex and her boyfriend had been on-again, off-again for three years. The late-night texts and phone calls, the constant fighting and breaking up – it was exhausting.
But he kept telling her, I cant live without you, and she couldnt help but keep coming back.
We all see relationships like Alexs and tend to attribute the intensity to hormones or puberty. But often theres something else going on.
Teen dating violence far exceeds the rates of all other types of youth violence. One in three American teenagers will experience dating violence in her or his relationship, and about two-thirds of those teens in abusive relationships will never tell anyone. These statistics dont even reflect the number of teens who do not understand that what they are experiencing is abuse.
When YWCA Northeast Indianas community education coordinator came to her class to talk about healthy relationships, Alex didnt realize that what she was experiencing was dating abuse.
The jealousy, the possessiveness, the isolation from her friends, even the threats of suicide, she thought were romantic.
She thought, This is what you do when you love someone.
But YWCA Northeast Indianas certified Eyes Wide Open relationship awareness training made her realize what was really happening. And after spending some one-on-one time talking with our community education coordinator, Alex realized that consciously spending time apart from her boyfriend, ignoring his texts and hanging out with friends she had long been isolated from brought her relief.
Getting out of her relationship allowed Alex to become herself again and may have prevented her from experiencing the long-term effects of teen dating violence. (Aside from physical harm, violent relationships in adolescence put teens at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence.)
These destructive relationships during the teen years can also lead to a lifelong pattern of violent relationships. According to the Centers for Disease Control, among adult victims of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner – 22 percent of women and 15 percent of men first experienced some sort of dating violence as teenagers.
YWCA Northeast Indiana helps more than 5,000 women, children and men annually who have been victims of domestic violence and offers programs that are certified under Heathers Law to teach teens the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. We go into hundreds of classrooms and youth groups each year, and we hear stories directly from teenagers. Stories such as Alexs.
So, what can you do?
Talk with the teens in your life about the characteristics of healthy relationships and the signs of unhealthy ones. Keep your eyes open for changes in behavior – such as disruptive text messages and phone calls, depression, withdrawal and anxiety – which may be signs of an unhealthy relationship. Act on your hunches.
And, if you need help, know that YWCA Northeast Indiana is here to help all victims of dating and domestic violence. Our website ( www.ywca.org/NEIN) is a wealth of information, and our crisis line operates 24/7/365. Call us at 800-441-4073.
As a community we need to respond to and work toward ending teen dating violence by supporting the efforts of schools, communities and organizations such as YWCA Northeast Indiana to empower teens to develop healthy relationships.
One in three American teens will experience dating violence. Will your teen be the one?