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GUEST COLUMN: Family Haven of Forysth County on teen dating
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Georgia is No. 1 in the United States for Teen Dating Violence, according to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control study.

The Georgia Department of Public Health conducted a Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System study in 2013, and found that one in 12 adolescents reported being physically abused by a dating partner at least one or more times in the previous year.

Here’s what teens and parents need to know…

During adolescence, young people learn how to form safe and healthy relationships with friends, parents, teachers and romantic partners. Both boys and girls often try on different identities and roles during this time, and relationships contribute to their development. Peers, in particular, play a big role in identity formation, but relationships with caring adults — including parents, teachers, mentors or coaches — are also important for adolescent development.

The parent-adolescent relationship is an important factor in how a young person handles other relationships. How teens view the adult relationships in their lives: mother/father, mother/stepfather, father/stepmother, mother/boyfriend, etc., is a heavy influencer on the type of partner they will choose.

What happens to a young person when they live in, or witness frequently, family domestic violence? Data provided by CDV,org (Children for Domestic Violence) tells us that 3-4 million children between the ages of 3-17 are at risk of exposure to domestic violence each year.

Children who are exposed to battering become fearful and anxious. They are always on guard, watching and waiting for the next event to occur. They never know what will trigger the abuse, and therefore, they never feel safe. They are always worried for themselves, the abused parent, and their siblings. They may feel worthless and powerless. These children often become victims or abusers themselves.

Controlling and demanding behaviors often happen before violence occurs. Often, teens confuse controlling behavior with loving behavior. For example, one partner may tell another what to wear and who to spend time with, or may be texting or calling their partner obsessively. This is the beginning of the power and control an abusive partner wields on another. Over time, controlling and demanding behavior may become increasingly violent, and that violence can have negative effects on physical and mental health throughout life, including lower self-esteem, eating disorders, drug and alcohol dependence, and suicidal thoughts.

The cycle of domestic violence is real. To address this issue, Forsyth County Family Haven, the voice of domestic violence in Forsyth County, hosts SAFE DATES in the Forsyth County high schools. The program consists of 6 hour-long sessions with freshman on topics such as managing anger, recognizing trigger points, what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like, and how to recognize if a friend is involved in an un-safe relationship, and what they can do to help or seek assistance. At the end of the 6 week program, teens create posters that express their thoughts and feelings on the topic of domestic violence.

The picture in this article is one such poster. They know more than we think. Teen dating violence IS real.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing family violence, please call Family Haven’s crisis line at (770) 887-1121. An advocate is ready to assist. Let’s not keep our voices silent. And let’s protect the silent victims…our children.

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This guest column was written by the staff at Family Haven of Forsyth County.