ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
Teen dating violence happens more often than most people would think.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three teens in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they reach adulthood, and two-thirds of them never tell anyone.
Stuart Bapties, violence prevention integrator with the Robins’ Integrated Resilience and Prevention Office, said teenage crisis centers receive hundreds of calls, online chats and text messages every day from teens across the country who are experiencing abuse in their relationship or looking to learn more about prevention and healthy relationships.
“Teenagers are experiencing their first romantic relationships while still learning basic relationship skills and thus do not always have the maturity to avoid abusive behaviors,” he said. “It’s essential that teen dating violence prevention occurs long before young people get serious about dating.”
The CDC reported that females between 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence with partner violent behavior typically beginning between the ages of 12 and 18.
Bapties said the most effective prevention begins by educating preteens and young teens about how to form healthy relationships with others and teaching them important life skills like assertiveness and solid communications skills, which includes how to disagree with others in a healthy and respectful way.
“Help teens recognize the warning signs; abuse and bullying in a dating relationship involves more than hitting, kicking, slapping and punching,” he said. “Most abusive relationships start out with subtle signs that many teens and young adults mistake for love. The most common warning signs are jealousy, texting and calling excessively, while insisting on spending every free moment together.”
Setting healthy boundaries in dating relationships is another way teens can help prevent potential problems, said Angele Devezin, Robins Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program manager.
“Teens aren’t that much different than adults when it comes to setting healthy boundaries in dating relationships,” she said. “Knowing what you like and don’t like is very important to setting boundaries. Also, understanding that sometimes what we like or don’t like changes. For instance, if you’re not someone who likes to be hugged, I would communicate that hand-holding or hand-shaking might be better.”
Devezin said teens should openly communicate with their dating partners what each wants from the relationship, not allowing peer pressure to affect the pace of their relationships’ progression. While it may be tempting for teens to invest the majority of their time with a partner, she said teens should be able to spend some time apart from each other and have their own hobbies.
“This not only allows your partner to miss you, but it also ensures that you will not lose yourself in the relationship,” she said.
Devezin added that it’s important that teens realize that intimate favors are not currency, and that neither partner owes the other such acts in return for anything in the relationship.
“If your partner pays for the movies, for instance, that was a kind gesture and should not be used to coerce you into doing anything you aren’t ready for,” she said.
Devezin said parents can help teens create boundaries and help teens know how to assert themselves if their boundaries were crossed. If teens feel those boundaries are violated they should let a responsible and trusted adult know.
“It doesn’t have to be parents or law enforcement that they talk to,” she said. “Growing up, I was able to talk to my youth pastor freely about my feelings without fear of repercussion. This person was able to separate temporary feelings from emergencies to involve my parents.”
In the coming months, Bapties said he will be working with the base’s helping agencies to increase prevention and awareness of teen dating violence and other areas of interpersonal violence that affect youth such as bullying and stalking, and teach both kids and their parents about warning signs and the actions to take when you suspect that someone is in an abusive relationship.
The base will soon host classes at the Robins Youth Center that teach people how to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy relationships, how to define consent, and how to both prevent and identify abuse.
Bapties said teen dating violence prevention is everyone’s responsibility.
“When there is a focus on reducing risk factors as well as fostering protective factors, and when teens are empowered through family, friends and others to lead healthy lives and establish healthy relationships, teen dating violence will be much less prevalent,” he said. “It is important to create an environment where the message is clear that abuse in dating relationships will not be overlooked or tolerated. We do this by ensuring that everyone plays an active part in prevention.”
Teens in crisis can text CONNECT to 741741 to be connected to free 24/7 trained crisis counselors standing by and ready to assist.
Visit https://vetoviolence.cdc.gov/apps/datingmatters/ to take the CDC’s free online training to learn how to recognize and understand the complexities of teen dating violence.
For more information on base resources to help with interpersonal relationship violence issues, call the Family Advocacy Program Office at (478) 327-8398 or Robins Violence Prevention Integrator at (478) 327-5439.