By MAGGIE SMITH
What, you may ask, does this have to do with domestic violence? A major component of addressing domestic abuse and violence is the effort to prevent it from happening in the first place. The challenge is to find out where that “first place” resides.
Various aspects of the behavior of middle and high school students have given rise to a considerable body of research. Bullying, one of those aspects, is certainly nothing new. Mark Twain, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Charles Dickens, and numerous other authors have included incidents of bullying in many of their widely read works, and television programming has followed suite. What may be entertainment in leisure pursuits is anything but entertaining in real life.
Schools take great pains to deal with this phenomenon, which is based on some need for control by one person over another. A bully’s behavior is often reinforced by an audience ready to enjoy the fun, at the expense of a classmate who, in other settings, may be a good friend.
At what point “joking around” escalates to something sinister and hurtful is tricky to identify and even trickier to address. Address it we must, if we are to encourage healthy associations as children approach adolescence and adulthood. The implications for adult relationships are inescapable.
According to a publication by the American Psychological Association, “Adult partner abuse has its roots in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Many childhood and adolescent risk factors have been found to predict adult partner violence, victimization and perpetration…”
Just as domestic discord and violence happen on a continuum, so does that early manifestation we identify as bullying. The next step, beyond the playground or locker room variety, is electronic bullying. Sexting, defined as the sending and receiving of sexually explicit cell phone text or photo messages, provides a quick and convenient gateway to incidents of humiliation, embarrassment, reputation assassination, even extortion.
While many young people consider sexting as a harmless way to hook up, many more are learning that sexting can be anything but harmless. It is rapidly becoming common knowledge that college admissions and employment opportunities can be severely damaged by the on-line persona of hopeful applicants. In addition, electronic devices are almost universally accessible by other interested parties, whose motives may range from mischief to malice.
Hopefully, bullying in any of its incarnations can be outgrown, as maturation turns a young person’s interests in more appropriate and productive directions. Until that becomes something like a universal truth, here are “Eleven Facts About Teen Dating Violence,” as retrieved from www.dosomething.org :
Roughly 1.5 million high school boys and girls in the U.S. admit to being intentionally hit or physically harmed in the last year by someone they are romantically involved with.
Teens who suffer dating abuse are subject to long-term consequences like alcoholism, eating disorders, promiscuity, thoughts of suicide, and violent behavior.
- 1 in 3 young people will be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship.
- 33 percent of adolescents in America are victim to sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional dating abuse.
- In the U.S. 25 percent of high school girls have been abused physically or sexually. Teen girls who are abused this way are six times more likely to become pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted infection.
- Females between the ages of 16 and 24 are roughly 3 times more likely than the rest of the population to be abused by an intimate partner.
- 8 States in the U.S. do not consider a violent dating relationship domestic abuse. Therefore, adolescents, teens, and 20-somethings are unable to apply for a restraining order for protection from the abuser.
- Violent behavior often begins between 6th and 12th grade. 72 percent of 13 and 14-year-olds are “dating.”
- 50 percent of young people who experience rape or physical or sexual abuse will attempt to commit suicide.
- Only 1/3 of the teens who were involved in an abusive relationship confided in someone about the violence.
- Teens who have been abused hesitate to seek help because they do not want to expose themselves or are unaware of the laws surrounding domestic violence.
No amount of information about teen/dating violence in particular or domestic violence in general is of any value unless it is examined and considered in a thoughtful way.
The teen years are endlessly interesting, challenging, and exciting. A first love is particularly precious and is meant to be cherished for a very long time, but only if it is based on a healthy foundation, free of the stigmas of bullying, degradation, or fear. Think about it!
American Psychological Association, viii, 294 pp. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/11880-008
Pediatrics, Vol. 134, Number 1, July 2014