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Advice for Schools: Learning How to Recognize Teen Dating Violence

Antonia Leto is a senior at Novato High School in northern California. She is passionate about education and looks forward to further her interests in teaching after she graduates.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, a national effort to raise awareness and protect young people from relationship abuse. Teen dating violence includes physical, psychological or sexual abuse; harassment; or stalking of adolescents in the context of a past or present romantic or consensual relationship.

Antonia Leto is on a mission to prevent teen dating violence from happening. Her post below outlines some important warning signs that school staff, teachers, health professionals and parents should be aware of.

I am a 17-year-old senior at Novato High School and a member of the MAYA Committee, which stands for Marin Against Youth Abuse. I started volunteering with this group because of the history of domestic violence in my family. I want to help teens avoid the suffering much of my family has had.

One in four teens will experience some level of dating abuse before graduating high school, and I hope to lower these numbers by spreading awareness in our community.

Most youth do not understand that relationship abuse can be something other than physical, especially with the prevalence of social media. There are many different kinds of abuse. Because they are so excited to find a significant other, many teens do not realize they have a right to certain safeties in their relationship.

Often victims of teen dating violence will be afraid to say something directly about their abuse, though they may hint with small behaviors in the safety of trusted parents or other family members, friends, mentors, teachers or neighbors.

Here are some behaviors and other signs to be aware of with youth:

General Questions to Ask

  • Has your relationship gotten serious fast?
  • How old were you when you started dating?
  • What are some ways you know you are being treated with respect?
Warning Signs
  • Entered relationship fast
  • Dating an adult; early dating
  • Can’t identify respect qualities
  • Has trouble finding positive resiliency qualities

Physical Abuse

  • Does your partner break things important to you?
  • Do you ever fear your partner?
  • How does your partner act when arguing with you?
Warning Signs
  • Frequently injured; injuries seem to have a pattern (like a hand or belt)
  • Shies away from doctor’s or nurse’s examination

Sexual Abuse

  • Does your partner cause “drama” when you want to use a condom?
  • Do you feel obligated to have sex with your partner?
Warning Signs
  • Shows knowledge/interest in sexual behavior inappropriate for her or his age
  • Won’t change clothes in front of doctors or nurses
  • Has a sexually transmitted infection or is pregnant (especially if under 14)

Emotional/Verbal Abuse

  • Does your partner support you spending time with your family and friends?
  • Does your partner ever make you feel bad about yourself or put you down?
  • Does your partner ever say hurtful things about the way you look or about the things that are important to you?
Warning Sign
  • Detached from caregiver during appointments

Digital Abuse

• Do you ever feel like your partner texts you too much?
• Has your partner ever shared anything private about you on social media without your permission?
• Does your partner often humiliate you through social media?

Warning Signs
  • Flinches when phone rings
  • Frantically responds to texts, even if they are during an appointment

Many teens have a difficult time trusting others because of shame and fear of parental reactions, while others do not even understand that what is happening to them is abuse. It is important to create a safe and welcoming environment for teens to disclose if they are not feeling safe in their relationship and try not to assume that school officials or parents are protecting the integrity of the victim.

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