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Travis: Self-harm and teen dating violence

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Denton County Sheriff Will Travis
Denton County Sheriff Will Travis

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month, and March is Self-Harm Awareness Month, and in many ways, the two can go hand in hand, although they are seldom seen as related.

Most of us do everything we can to keep our children from experiencing any form of violence, so when it happens in a dating situation, it’s unexpected.  To make matters worse, abusers commonly make the victims feel like the abuse is their own fault because they are “stupid,” or somehow not as good as they should be.

We like to think that our teenagers have a good sense of self-worth, and will not be influenced by this behavior, but one thing we forget to take into account is that the teen years are filled with changes and insecurities that they are unsure how to handle.  According to the CDC, “Teens often think some behaviors, like teasing and name calling, are a “normal” part of a relationship. However, these behaviors can become abusive and develop into more serious forms of violence.”

Factors that increase risk for harming a dating partner include:

  • Belief that dating violence is acceptable
  • Depression, anxiety, and other trauma symptoms
  • Aggression towards peers and other aggressive behavior
  • Substance use
  • Early sexual activity and having multiple sexual partners
  • Having a friend involved in dating violence
  • Conflict with partner
  • Witnessing or experiencing violence in the home

Some things to watch for that can indicate your child is experiencing or involved in dating violence warning signs are below:

  • Makes excuses and apologizes for his or her partner’s behaviors,
  • Often has unexplained injuries, such as bruises or body pain,
  • Isolates him or herself from family and friends and only deals with his or her partner,
    • Involvement in antisocial behaviors
    • Withdrawing from activities
    • Sleeping too much or too little
  • The dating partner frequently texts or calls demanding to know where and with whom he or she has been,
  • Is frequently upset or depressed but is unwilling to discuss the cause.

Long term exposure to this kind of behavior can lead to specific behaviors such as those below:

  • Symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Engagement in unhealthy behaviors, such as tobacco and drug use, and alcohol
    • Acting recklessly
  • Thoughts about suicide and other forms of self-harm
    • Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means
    • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
    • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression

Additionally, youth who are victims of dating violence in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college and later in life because of their previous emotional investment in this type of behavior.

So, how do we stop this from happening to our kids?  Here are a few ways to make sure it doesn’t happen to your children.

  • Understand that it doesn’t only happen to girls
  • Talk to your teens about what makes a healthy relationship
  • Ask teachers to hold classroom discussions about dating violence and prevention – or to invite speakers in to talk about these issues.
  • Help schools create policies that support healthy relationships and involve student voices.

For more information on these topics, please visit the links below.

www.cdc.gov/features/datingviolence

www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/teen-dating-violence-factsheet-a.pdf

www.loveisrespect.org/healthy-relationships

afsp.org/about-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs

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