By Julie Kapsch, Guest Columnist
When many of us think about dating violence, we often consider it to be an issue for high schoolers and older adults, but a new study challenges that perception. A recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that rates of dating violence even among students in middle school are alarming.
By surveying more than 1,400 students, researchers found 75 percent of middle school students had a boyfriend or girlfriend. According to the survey, entitled “Starting Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships,” one in six 12-year-olds has experienced physical dating violence in the past six months; one in three participants has witnessed this type of violence among their peers in the past; and 37 percent of 11- to 14-year-olds had been psychologically abused by a partner.
Additionally, 49 percent said they had been sexually harassed, either physically or verbally, by being touched inappropriately or joked about. Alarmingly, 7 percent strongly agreed that it was OK for a boy to hit his girlfriend under certain circumstances, such as “a girl who makes her boyfriend jealous on purpose.”
Interestingly, 50 percent strongly agreed it was OK for a girl to hit her boyfriend in the same situation. Thirty-one percent of these middle school kids are experiencing some kind of aggression or pressure by electronic means such as insistent texting or coercion to send inappropriate photographs.
For most tweens and young teens, these are the years when the transition to adulthood begins, new peer and social influences come into play, and jealousy, anger and pressure to conform are felt in powerful ways. Also, this is often the first time the behaviors they saw in their homes as well as the lessons they have learned from peers and from popular culture, are carried into their own relationships. It’s a key age for education and prevention of teen dating violence, when youth are just beginning to date or experience attraction and romantic relationships.
If we can reach young people in middle school and make them aware of the nature of abuse and show them how they can prevent it, we may be able to stop this cycle of violence before they get involved in it.
Parents are encouraged to talk to their young teens and help them recognize the following signs that they may be in an unhealthy relationship. Ask them the following questions.
• Is he/she jealous and possessive toward you, checks up on you, and belittles you in front of family and friends?
• Won’t accept that you are breaking up with him/her?
• Tries to control you, doesn’t like you being with friends, makes all the decisions, and doesn’t take your opinion seriously?
• Scares you by his/her reactions to things you say or do? Threatens you with using weapons or self-harm?
• Is violent, has a history of fighting or losing his/her temper, and brags about mistreating others? Destroys or damages your personal property?
• Forces you to have unwanted sexual contact?
• Attempts to manipulate you or becomes too serious about the relationship too quickly?
• Uses drugs or alcohol and tries to get you to take them too?
• Has a history of bad relationships or blames you when he or she mistreats you?
• Hits, strangles, punches, kicks, slaps, pulls your hair, or physically hurts you?
• Has caused your family and friends to express concern for your safety?
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is experiencing teen dating violence, there is help. Call Hands of Hope Resource Center at (320) 632-4878. Break the Silence. Stop the Violence.
Julie Kapsch is the assistant director at Hands of Hope Resource Center, Little Falls.