By Jennifer McDermid, Family and Youth Advocate at The Bridge to Hope in Menomonie, WI
As February arrives, it seems the only thing to half-heartedly look forward to is Valentine’s Day. February is the month that we as Midwesterners start to scour the internet for warm climate vacations and “can you die from a lack of sunlight…?” But this month also brings something much more serious and overlooked; dating violence and abuse within our teen and adolescent population. According to a 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Study survey, it’s estimated that ONE IN THREE young people will experience dating abuse.
Teen dating violence can be any one, or a combination, of the following:
Physical. Any intentional use of physical force with the intent to cause fear or injury, like hitting, shoving, strangling, kicking, or using a weapon.
Verbal and Emotional. Any non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring, humiliation, intimidation, or isolation from friends and family. Harming a partner’s reputation is also a form of emotional abuse.
Digital Abuse. The use of technologies and/or social media networking to intimidate, harass, or threaten a current or ex-dating partner such as demanding passwords, checking cell phones, cyberbullying, non-consensual sexting, excessive or threatening texts or stalking on social media.
Sexual. Any sexual activity that occurs without willing, active, unimpaired consent: including rape, coercion, unwanted touching, and restricting access to or tampering with birth control.
Unhealthy dating relationships can start early and last a lifetime– teens who are victims in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college and into adulthood. Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. They’ll pay less attention to academics, have an increased interest and exposure to drugs and alcohol, along with a growing isolation from the people and things they used to enjoy.
As the Family and Youth Advocate at The Bridge to Hope in Menomonie, I hope for this month of awareness to go beyond preventing the actual violence within teen relationships. I encourage parents to get comfortable talking to their kids about these issues. While it is vital to discuss the warning signs of dating abuse and violence, it’s just as important to create a positive connection to relationships. Talking about what a healthy relationship looks like; equality (no “alpha”), feeling safe, the ability to be yourself, enjoying time together and apart, honesty, and communication.
Trust your gut! If you’re concerned that your relationship or someone else’s relationship is bordering on abusive or controlling, it probably is. Don’t ignore the warning signs. Reach out to someone you can trust, and call/text us here at the Bridge to Hope; we offer free, confidential, and compassionate support, as well as provide you with resources to create a healthier life for yourself and the youth in our community.
The Bridge to Hope has advocates available 24/7 via our crisis and text line. You can reach an advocate by calling 715-235-9074 or 1-800-924-9918, or by texting 715-505-3640.