Because February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, there has been a lot of discussion regarding what teens see as a healthy relationship and what they see as a dangerous or unhealthy relationship.
According to the website for the National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month campaign (teendvmonth.org), teen dating violence is seen as a silent epidemic because one in three teenagers will experience some form of abuse from a dating partner, but over two-thirds of them will never report it.
During a recent interview for a story about the month, three Warwick high school students revealed that while physical violence towards someone would be an obvious sign of abuse, they often see what can be considered a “controlling” relationship as normal.
The teens said it is normal to see boys and girls refuse to let their significant others hang out with friends of the opposite gender, keep track of their partner’s whereabouts through social media sites, and change their personal style or activities because a significant other told them to. They said most of these behaviors were normal and are often attributed to the boyfriend or girlfriend being overly caring or jealous.
But as a result these teens can often end up isolated from their friends, only spending time with their significant other. Then they may decide to stay in the unhealthy relationship because they have no one else to turn to and fear their friends will not take them back.
While physical and sexual violence take the main stage in the discussion about domestic and dating violence, there are three other types of violence that lead to unhealthy and abusive relationships: emotional, verbal and financial.
In a world where teens consider being in a “controlling” relationship to be normal, it is clear that more needs to be done in school, in the home and/or in the media to show young people the warning signs to all types of unhealthy relationships.
Claire Spaulding McVicker, executive director of the Katie Brown Educational Program, a school curriculum aimed at teaching young people about dating violence, said depictions of relationships in television shows and movies play a role in how teens view normal relationships. Also, the increased use of social media and smart phones have led teens to believe it is okay to keep track of their significant others 24/7.
But ultimately, a healthy relationship is built on trust, honesty and respect. That is the message we need to start sending to young people, this month and every month of the year.