By Emily Fanjoy, Safer Futures Project Coordinator, Tillamook County Women’s Resource Center, emily@tcwrc.net

 February is focused on healthy teen relationships to prevent Teen Dating Violence. Parents, educators, coaches, medical providers, church and community groups, and teens themselves can all have a positive impact on reducing teen dating violence when they educate themselves about the dynamics of healthy vs. unhealthy relationships. For adults in particular, talking about healthy relationships can be daunting because, in spite of years of experience, most of us do not see ourselves as relationship experts. To set you up for success, below is important information about teen dating violence, prevalence and health effects, as well as resources that can help you talk with adolescents, friends, and family members.

                Teen dating violence is far more common than you might think. It’s important to note that it occurs in both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, and any gender can choose abusive behavior. The CDC reports that approximately one in 10 high school students has experienced physical violence from a dating partner in the past year and one in 4 adolescents reports verbal, emotional, physical or sexual dating violence each year. In every class of 20 students in our local middle and high schools, 2-5 students are being affected by teen dating violence, like being a teen isn’t hard enough?

                Teen dating violence is a pattern of power and control behaviors used by one partner to gain and maintain control over the other partner. The behaviors are selective, intentional, and generally increase in severity over time. The tactics may include name calling, extreme jealousy, isolation, pressure and coercion, constant texting and monitoring, reproductive coercion, and physical and sexual abuse. Violent behavior often begins between 6th and 12th grade, and 72% of 13 and 14-year-olds are “dating”. Teen dating violence has profound social, emotional, and health consequences for individuals suffering abuse. Teen dating violence starts early and can last a lifetime.       

                Here’s the thing, lots of adults talk to their kids about sex, drugs, and alcohol. While these are important topics, it’s equally important to talk to them about healthy relationships. Why? Because violent relationships in adolescence puts victims at higher risk for substance abuse. Physically or sexually abused teens are 6 times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to contract an STI. Relationships affect health not just in terms of substance use and reproductive health. Anxiety, depression, and eating disorders are all potential outcomes of abusive relationships. Half of youth who are victimized by dating violence and rape attempt suicide. It is imperative that we talk to youth about healthy relationships.

                You can make a difference, and you’ve got resources. An excellent website for adolescents and supporting adults alike is loveisrespect.org. This comprehensive resource offers information on how to get help for yourself or others. It talks about dating basics, defines abuse, and gives tools to work on healthy relationships. Additional resources can be found at thatsnotcool.com and futureswithoutviolence.org. Locally, contact Tillamook County Women’s Resource Center to learn more or request a speaker, 503-842-8294.

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