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The New Parental Chat: The Birds, The Bees And Teen Dating Violence?

Why parents should be more aware of this growing epidemic.

by Larry L. Johnson

The numbers are in:  Teen dating violence cases are increasing at alarming and epidemic rates. The number of teen dating violence incidents has increased from rare to far exceeding. These teen dating violence incidents are taking place across cultural, economic, religious and sexual orientation lines and across  the state. Teen dating violence is now a national epidemic.

Teen dating violence deserves high alert. Youth who report being physically hurt in a dating relationship are more likely to report that they engage in a lifetime of risky sexual behavior, binge drinking, drug use, attempted suicide and participate in physical fights.  “Our youth today are our leaders tomorrow. We must protect our youth and give them of options to choose from. There is no problem too large or too small that cannot be resolved. Teen dating violence challenges my belief, so it is vital that we all work together must give our young people choices.”

Teen dating violence takes place in five forms:

  • physical — pinched, hit, shoved, or kicked
  • emotional —  threatening a partner or harming his or her sense of self-worth. Examples include name calling, shaming, bullying, embarrassing on purpose, or keeping him/her away from friends and family
  • sexual — forcing a partner to engage in a sex act when he or she does not or cannot consent
  • stalking —  a pattern of harassing or threatening tactics used by a partner that is both unwanted and causes fear in the victim
  • electronic — texting and online

As a health professional, reviewing the many expert resources and overwhelming statistics, I consider teen dating violence to have met the criteria of disease in our society, our human environment, and human population. Disease generally speaking, is a disordered or incorrectly functioning organ, part, structure, or system of the body in harmful deviation from the normal structural or functional state of an organism. The hallmark of disease is the harmful deviation. The normal condition of an organism must be understood in order to recognize the hallmarks of disease. That being said, normal condition — while I am not an expert on teen dating violence — I do understand the normal purpose and function of dating and that purpose is not to inflict hurt, harm or danger.

While the protocols and practices vary considerably from country to country, dating is defined as a form of courtship consisting of social activities in public, shared by two people. The function of dating is to result in an assessment that allows both involved to conclude if each are suitable as a partner in an intimate relationship or as a spouse — for life. Dating activities allow both to assess enjoyment of each other's company, assess each other's dreams, goals, enjoyment of the same activities, and assess decisions of children or no children, etc. This dating period of courtship as a couple is in many cases seen as a precursor to engagement or marriage. Conclusively, dating is utllized geographically, cross-culture, economic, religious, age, and sexual orientation to assess suitability of a lifetime spouse or partner.

Research suggests understanding the cause of teen dating violence is a start to halting this growing epidemic. Eight factors that increase risk for harming a dating partner are trauma symptoms, alcohol use, having a friend involved in dating violence, having a problem behaviors in other areas, belief that dating violence is acceptable, exposure to harsh parenting, exposure to inconsistent discipline, lack of parental supervision, monitoring, and warmth. 

I am baffled and have many unanswered questions of the victims– why continue to date a person that is not nice to you? Why not report the abuse to a family member, a teacher, why not stop dating? Why not talk to law enforcement in private, why not reach out to the many free help resources online? Why continue to give the person ammunition to hurt you? Intimate pictures for posting online, even continued affection?

Teen Dating Abuse - Violence Fact Sheet (reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):

  1. Each year approximately one in four adolescents reports verbal, physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
  2. Approximately one in five adolescents reports being a victim of emotional abuse.
  3. Approximately one in five high school girls has been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.
  4. Dating violence among their peers is reported by 54% of high school students.
  5. One in three teens report knowing a friend or peer who has been physically hurt by his or her partner through violent actions which included hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, and/or choking.
  6. Eighty percent of teens believe verbal abuse is a serious issue for their age group.
  7. Nearly 80% of girls who have been victims of physical abuse in their dating relationships continue to date the abuser.
  8. Nearly 20% of teen girls who have been in a relationship said that their boyfriend had threatened violence or self-harm in the event of a break-up.
  9. Nearly 70% of young women who have been raped knew their rapist; the perpetrator was or had been a boyfriend, friend, or casual acquaintance.

Where does teen dating violence take place? The majority of teen dating abuse occurs in the home of one of the partners:

  • one in eleven adolescents is a victim of physical dating violence.
  • one in four teens self-report physical, verbal, emotional or sexual abuse every year.
  • African American and Hispanic students report higher rates of dating violence than white students.
  • Approximately 72 percent of 8th and 9th graders report "dating." By the time these students get to high school, more than half of them say they see dating violence among their peers. 

Numbers shocking? I agree. More than ever, as parents, family and friends we must become aggressive in detecting if our loved ones or friends are victims, an also know the cure and how to garner support. You could save a life and improve the health of our community simultaneously.

As a policymaker I am aware that 17 states have laws that urge or require school boards to develop curriculum on teen dating violence. Many states have also adopted teen dating violence awareness weeks or months, as has Georgia. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month, in an effort to draw the public's attention to a national campaign that promotes prevention, safe dating practices and offers information and resources.

I am also aware that each state is graded by teen violence advocate organizations that assess grades between A (highest) -F (lowest) by state based on ease of attainment of a civil domestic violence protective order to youths.  The younger the age of access, for example 12 years of age versus 18 years of age the higher grade. The protective order protects against for example but not all inclusive of:  must stay away from your home, school or work; minor children or household members; or any specified place the abuser has no legitimate reason to frequent ; the abuser must not harass, annoy, telephone, contact or communicate with you; Use of a joint residence, specifically excluding abuser from home. The protective order can be filed at no cost.

The “Say Yes to Respect” Campaign will be utilized to connect and educate youth, educate parents, serve as a platform for sharing healthy and sharing constructive dating activities. Prevention, training and resources are delivered by DeKalb County Solicitor General’s Office.

Your daughter, your son must know they are empowered to decide if life will be a ‘picnic’ or ‘death’ by relationship?

I strongly urge you to chat with your loved one today.

Get involved and “Say Yes to Respect."

Mr. Johnson, who has a bacherlor's degree in community health from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree public health from the University of Northern Colorado, is DeKalb County District 3 commissioner.

Shelly Hall February 18, 2013 at 07:30 PM
Mr. Johnson, Great article! I stumbled upon it by accident as I was creating a powerpoint on Teen Dating Violence that I will be presenting to a number of educators later this week. I hope to get at least several schools in the Atlanta area on board with enacting protocols for dealing with Teen Dating Violence. As well, I will instruct teachers what to do IF their school doesn't have a protocol (and how to create one). This is vital since the majority of teachers spend more time with our children than many parents. They see things that others don't. It is vital that they have the tools to know what to do (which is basically refer to a protocol - which every school should have). Otherwise, simply know that help is available and offer the resources. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your article. People need to know that Teen Dating Violence is truly becoming epidemic and Georgia ranks number one for teen dating incidents - how sad is that!

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