Women and domestic violence have been in the forefront recently. This is important, but also of major importance is protecting young girls from domestic violence in the form of teen dating violence, according to a Cooperative Extension Program human development specialist.

“This unhealthy relationship can start early and last a lifetime,” said Janette Wheat, Ph.D, associate professor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Teen dating violence is the physical, sexual, psychological or emotional aggression within a dating relationship. Wheat said that teen dating violence includes stalking and can be in person or electronically and includes texting, social media or other online applications.

Teens often think teasing and name calling are a normal part of a relationship, but the behavior frequently escalates and can become abusive and develop in a form of violence. In a recent national survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that eight percent of high school students reported physical violence and seven percent reported that they had experienced sexual violence from a dating partner in the 12 months before the survey, Wheat said.

About 26 percent of females and 15 percent of males first experienced some form of violence before age 18, and victims of dating violence in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college and throughout their lifetimes, according to Wheat and the CDC.

Teens frequently receive messages about how to behave in relationships from peers, adults and the media. All too often these examples suggest that violence in a relationship is normal, but violence is never acceptable, Wheat said.

Certain risk factors increase the risk of unhealthy relationships. These include a belief that dating violence is acceptable, use of drugs or illegal substances, a display of aggression towards peers, early sexual activity, multiple sex partners, a friend involved with dating violence, and conflicts with a partner or violence in the home, Wheat said.

Teen dating violence can be prevented when teens, families, organizations and communities work together to implement effective prevention strategies. These include fostering communication between partners, learning to manage uncomfortable emotions such as anger and jealousy, and treating others with respect, Wheat said.

Talk to teens now about the importance of developing healthy, respectful relationships, advises Wheat. To help educators, school personnel, youth leaders and others working with teens, the CDC Division of Violence has developed Dating Matters®: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships. It is a comprehensive teen dating violence prevention model that builds on current evidence-based practice to promote respectful, nonviolent dating relationships among youth. Its three components are available on the CDC’s VetoViolence website.

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— Carol Sanders is a writer/editor with the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.