March 16, 2012

Teen dating violence is common

Seven years ago, my 15-year-old cousin, Ashley, was murdered by her 16-year-old ex-boyfriend in New Mexico. She had broken up with him, but he came to her home and shot her in the front yard while her father was inside.

There is much more awareness now of teen dating violence and how many small acts of abuse come before extreme violence.

The most common warning signs are when your dating partner:

▶ Checks your phone or email.

▶ Constantly texts or calls.

▶ Puts you down.

▶ Isolates you from family or friends.

▶ Makes false accusations.

▶ Has mood swings or explosive temper.

▶ Physically hurts you in any way.

▶ Is jealous and possessive.

▶ Tells you what to do.


Ashley's life was taken by someone who said he loved her. Controlling, jealous behavior at first seems romantic. She may think: "He cares so much he wants to be with me all the time!"

He makes her feel special, and it is wonderful to have a boyfriend. But his possessiveness becomes overwhelming. He checks her phone for calls and texts. He puts her down, even in front of others, and is suddenly angry over nothing. She is frightened and does not know what to do. He apologizes and promises not to be that way anymore, but he doesn't stop. Their friends see some of this behavior and feel uncomfortable, but they don't know what to do.

Surveys show that nearly 1.5 million U.S. high-school students annually experience physical abuse from a dating partner, and one in three teens is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. Both boys and girls can be the abuser.


There are several excellent resources on the Internet to help identify abusive behavior and to guide parents and friends in how to help. These websites include explaining why a teen may stay in an unhealthy relationship, and how to talk about healthy relationships and healthy breakups. The fundamental message is that control isn't love. It's abuse.

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