Teen Dating Awareness Month: Keeping Kids Safe

February is Teen Dating Awareness Month, so we thought we’d spend some time talking about teen dating violence and how it can be prevented. Whether some of your patients are teenagers or you’re raising one at home, it’s important to be aware of the signs of abuse, so you can help younger patients protect themselves in romantic and sexual situations.

Today’s teenagers have plenty of issues to contend with, including physical and sexual violence, cyber bullying, sexting and the unauthorized sharing of nude or explicit photos, as well as racial and ethnic discrimination. These issues can easily affect a young person’s understanding of intimacy for years to come.

Let’s pull back the curtain on this topic, so you can help your patients overcome these challenges.

Teen Dating at a Glance

Today, teens are having sex later in life than they were during the 1980s. During the late 80s, 51% of teen females and 60% of male teenagers were having sex. According to the CDC now, 44% of males ages 15 to 19 have had intercourse, while 42% of girls in the same age group have done so. Around 80% of them use contraception during their first sexual experience.

Teen Dating Violence or TDV can take many different forms, including physical violence, sexual violence, inappropriate touching, psychological aggression, and stalking. These issues can just as easily happen online as they can in person. TDV remains systemic across the country with millions of cases every year; however, many teenagers may decide not to report issues of bullying or violence because they are afraid of telling their friends or family members.

Here are some statistics on TDV to keep in mind:

  • Nearly 1 in 11 females and 1 in 15 male high school students report having experienced physical dating violence in the last year.
  • About 1 in 9 females and 1 in 36 males in the same group report having experienced sexual dating violence in the same time frame.
  • About 26% of women and 15% of men who were victims of physical or contact sexual violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime first experienced these or other forms of violence by that partner before age 18.
  • The burden of TDV is not shared equally across all groups—sexual minority groups are disproportionately affected by all forms of violence, and some racial/ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected as well.

The Consequences of Teen Dating Violence

For some, the consequences of abuse and dating violence can last a lifetime. Unlike physical scars and conditions, the effects of TDV may go unnoticed for years. These consequences may include:

  • Symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Unhealthy lifestyle habits such as substance abuse, using tobacco, drugs and alcohol
  • Withdrawing from social activities and public events
  • Thoughts of suicide and self-harm
  • Poor school or athletic performance
  • Sudden mood swings and irritability
  • Increased chances of victimhood later on in life; youth who are victims of dating violence in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college.

Keep an eye out for these symptoms as you care for your patients. If a teenager starts changing their behavior, sex and dating may be related. Talk to your patients about how to stay safe during intimacy. Ask questions about their personal relationships. Some teens may want to keep these details private, but if you suspect abuse, you can’t afford to look the other way. Try to be open and transparent with teenagers and they may extend you the same courtesy. You may want to send some of your patients to a counselor or social worker to help them work through these issues.

Standing Up to Teen Dating Violence

Preventing TDV is all about encouraging healthy relationships among younger individuals. Create engaging social experiences for them so they can build positive relationships with each other without feeling pressure to have sex or use substances. Respond positively to healthy romantic developments, while discouraging or talking through unhealthy developments.

Reaching out to supervisors and parents can also help reduce incidents of TDV. Family and relationship engagement programs can help address some of these issues. Some students may need more support from the local community as well as added supervision at home.

Talk to your patients about how they should respond to these kinds of situations. Teenagers should be familiar with safe sex practices and learn how to advocate for their preferences in the moment. Talk to at-risk patients about reporting incidents of abuse and why it’s important.

For some teens, going to the doctor or visiting with a school nurse may be their only chance to talk about these deeply personal issues. You can do your part to stand up to teen dating violence by knowing the signs of abuse and intervening with your patients when necessary.

For more information about preventing TDV, download or view the CDC’s Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan: A Technical Package of Programs, Policies, and Practices.  It’s full of useful information that you can use to address these issues. No one should be made to feel unsafe in sexual or intimate situations, especially teens. Keep this information in mind to help foster healthy relationships among young people in your community.

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