For teenagers, dating represents not just an opportunity for romantic connection, but also a crucial step in their development. It is a chance for teens to learn how to have a healthy intimate relationship, increase their self-esteem and sense of identity as well as the importance of consent, boundaries and protecting oneself within these relationships.
Because dating is an important step in teen development, teen dating violence is a significant concern. Experiencing dating violence can impact a teen’s health and safety, causing not only harm in the moment but also disrupting their development in ways that can lead to future relationship issues.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducts a national survey every two years on a representative sample of public high-schoolers, aged 13 to 17 years-old. In their 2019 survey, their most recently released results, the CDC reports that 1 in 8 girls who had dated someone in the twelve months prior to the survey had experienced sexual dating violence within those twelve months, and 1 in 11 girls had experienced physical dating violence. For boys, this was 1 in 20 and 1 in 14 respectively. Those numbers only increase in frequency for those who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, with roughly 1 in 6 experiencing sexual dating violence and more than 1 in 8 experiencing physical dating violence. It is well-known that sexual violence statistics are underreported, so it would be fair to assume that these numbers are even higher.
With such high prevalence, teen dating violence is clearly a significant issue within our community. This is complicated by many interacting forces that can encourage it and allow it. But one known factor is that teenagers, who are exposed to domestic violence between their parents or caregivers, are more likely to accept violence in their own romantic relationships.
At Safe Harbor, we provide counseling to teenagers who have witnessed domestic violence or are they themselves victims of dating/sexual violence. We respond the same way: we look to teach teens about healthy and unhealthy dynamics in relationships, individual sovereignty, and skills to identify and communicate their emotions and needs. If they can learn to understand and value themselves and their needs and communicate that, they will be in a much better position to engage in healthy relationships.
We are also out in the community teaching about healthy relationships and the dynamics of abuse at local high schools. We talk about healthy relationships, dynamics of abuse and trauma, and self-care to equip them with tools that will reduce or prevent dating violence and ultimately help them have healthier and more fulfilling relationships.
This is bolstered by our work with parents who are survivors of domestic violence themselves. If we can help parents manage and heal from their own trauma and increase their ability to engage in relationships in healthy ways, it improves how they interact with their children. As the inverse of witnessing violence in the home, the research shows that experiencing a consistent, nurturing relationship with just one parent or caregiver increases a youth’s resilience and ability to have healthy relationships, now and in the future.
That is ultimately at the root of our work: to address trauma, build resilience, and change, transform, and rebuild lives.
If you would like to learn more about our work or help support us in what we do for our community, you can visit us at www.safeharborshelter.com.
Also below are some resources to help start the conversation with your teen: