February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have come to rely heavily on digital platforms to do our work, attend school, and socialize with others. Unfortunately, this shift has had a surprisingly negative effect on the way teens communicate online and maintain relationships with one another. A recent study by a Boston University researcher found that 48% of 12 to 18 year-olds who have been in a relationship have been stalked or harassed by their partner. Stalking and harassing behaviors such as monitoring social media accounts, a person's location and communication with others increase the likelihood of physical violence. According to a study by the Urban Institute, 52% of teens who experience digital abuse are also physically abused. Even though physical distancing may be in place, dating abuse can still occur online while teens are at home and can be just as harmful.
In the U.S, teen dating violence exceeds all other types of youth violence, with one in three teens being a victim of abuse. Dating violence can take many forms but ultimately focuses on gaining and maintaining power and control over one's partner. Anyone can be a victim regardless of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. The effects of a violent relationship at a young age can have lifelong consequences and lead to depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
As online stalking and harassment continue to become more common in American teen relationships, parents, educators, and other adults must learn how to support teens and teach them about healthy relationships. Help raise awareness and talk to your teens about the following warning signs.
- Intensity: Expressing over the top feelings and behaviors, including increasing the pace of the relationship.
- Possessiveness & Stalking: Overtly monitoring and controlling what you do and who you spend time with.
- Manipulation & Guilting: Use of influence to control your actions, decisions, or emotions. Placing responsibility on you for their actions and insinuating that their happiness relies on you.
- Isolation: An attempt to create dependency by keeping you from your friends, family, and other people.
- Sabotage & Blackmail: When someone tries to ruin your reputation or image as a means to gain control.
- Belittling: Using degrading language, jokes, and comments to hurt your confidence.
- Volatility: Displaying extreme reactions to small things as a means to incite fear and control.
- Deflecting Responsibility: Repeatedly making excuses for unhealthy behavior.
- Betrayal: Acting in an untrustworthy way and being intentionally dishonest.
Adults should also encourage teens and young adults to be wary of anyone that exhibits these signs online. "Parents need to be vigilant in speaking with their children about cyber safety as a whole," says Bobbi Sudberry, executive director and co-founder of Kaity's Way, a teen dating violence awareness organization. "There is no harm in discussing what information to share and not to share. New avenues are created daily, with new social media and gaming sites popping up all the time. There are many predators on these sites that pose as a youth, but are only there to prey on youth."
Sudberry also asks that parents learn about Kaity's Law, named in honor of her daughter, who died tragically at an abusive partner's hands. Until 2008, domestic violence protection in Arizona did not include dating relationships; Kaity's Law changed that. "Parents need to understand that in the state of Arizona, it is against the law to abuse someone in a dating relationship, know your rights to protection." Those looking to get an order of protection can now do so online through the Arizona Protective Order Initiative and Notification Tool (AZPOINT).
The more we talk about these issues openly, the more we can help share information and end the stigma of relationship violence. To students heading back to school, Sudberry asks that they "be open and communicate kindly and honestly. Vulnerability is freedom. Being patient is necessary too, try to empathize and understand each other. Accept that everyone deals with things differently. Care about yourself and others by setting boundaries and continue to treat everyone equally."
As Arizona's first organization focused on teen dating violence, Kaity's Way helps teens learn about an abusive relationship's warning signs through workshops for families and curriculum for schools. For more information visit, kaitysway.org.
If you think you are in a dangerous situation, trust your instincts and get help! Call or text Bloom365 at 888-606-HOPE(4673) or Teen Lifeline at 602-248-TEEN(8336).