COLUMBUS, Ohio — Young love often eventually fades, but for some teens, it can turn violent. An estimated 1.5 million high school students in the U.S. suffer physical abuse from a dating partner each year.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and multiple groups are taking the opportunity to educate teens about healthy relationships. Melissa Graves, chief executive officer at the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center in Cleveland, said most abusive relationships involve a partner who wants to control the other.
“At the beginning of a new relationship, that jealousy or that protectiveness, it might seem flattering, it might feel okay,” Graves said. “But soon, very quickly, it can become suffocating, isolating and turn into an abusive dynamic.”
While physical attraction may ignite a relationship, Graves said respect, trust, consent, and open communication are all crucial to keeping it healthy. Teen dating violence can take the forms of physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse. And it can lead to depression, alcohol or drug abuse, negative body image and poor school performance.
Graves said it could be difficult for a victim to open up about abuse, especially a teen who fears they won’t be believed. She encourages parents to be as supportive as possible and not to place blame.
“It’s essential to come from a place of sharing with your teen what you’re observing and why that’s of concern, not coming in like, ‘Oh, I think you’re in a bad relationship, or I’m worried ’cause I think this is negative,’” she said. “That could make a teen defensive and not want to communicate.”
There are also many organizations that victims of teen dating violence can contact for support, said Heather Frederick with the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
“Because we know how difficult it can be to have those conversations with parents or teachers or other people – even just to have those conversations face to face,” Frederick said. “The option to do it over the phone, or through chat or text, is a lot more comfortable for younger people. ”
Help is available online at loveisrespect.org or by texting 22522. The hotline number is 866-331-9474.
Reporting by Ohio News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest, and funded in part by The George Gund Foundation.