LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — One in three teenagers in the U.S. will experience dating violence before reaching adulthood according to love is respect, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month when groups like the Domestic Violence Services of Lancaster County work to raise awareness about the issues of teen dating violence.
Christine Gilfillan, director of Domestic Violence Services of Lancaster County (a program of the Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County), explains that teen dating violence involves emotional and psychological abuse as well as physical harm. It can look like excessive jealousy, possessiveness or demeaning comments.
While those harmful behaviors can be experienced by people of all ages, Gilfillan notes that there are some unique challenges teenagers face. One of them is the prevalence of social media in the lives of young adults. “The advancement of technology has led to many more ways that people can be followed or harassed or stalked,” says Gilfillan.
Additionally, teens have less experience with relationships, so they’re still developing ideas of what a healthy relationship looks like, Gilfillan says. She says that they largely base their concept of a good relationship on other relationships they’ve seen or been in, which may lead to a perpetuation of unhealthy or harmful behaviors.
The CDC reports that “youth who are victims of dating violence in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college.” Gilfillan says that teens’ “lack of experience or maybe lack of exposure to healthy relationships might mean that this is a group that especially needs some attention and education.”
The Domestic Violence Services of Lancaster County brought that education to the streets of Lancaster City this month with “Chalk about Love,” sharing sidewalk chalk messages about healthy relationship qualities and support resources.
Gilfillan says an important part of educating young people about teen dating violence is helping them figure out what a good relationship looks like. “Promoting what we want to see and what’s healthy usually is more effective than talking about what we don’t want you to do or what might happen to you,” she explains.
In her educational work, Gilfillan encourages teens to consider the ideal relationship. “If you could envision a relationship that’s just wonderful and safe and loving and healthy, what would it look like?” she asks.
This education can even start with children examining their relationships with friends or classmates before they’re entering into romantic relationships, says Gilfillan. They can consider positive qualities of a friendship, and then when they’re dating someone, those same values can carry over into the new relationship.
While there is a variety of relationship “red flags,” Gilfillan says most people agree on some key “green flags” indicative of healthy relationships: respect, honesty, open communication, explicit consent, boundaries, trust and equality.
Often these characteristics feed into one another. For example, partners can maintain honest, open communication to set boundaries and establish consent. And once boundaries are determined, individuals should be able to trust that their partners will respect their emotional/physical boundaries.
“It sounds kind of formal, like ‘Oh, we have to make an agreement for our relationship,'” says Gilfillan, but having conversations about these aspects of a relationship can be helpful and important.
“If we’re all on the same page, we have a better chance of a relationship that’s healthy,” Gilfillan says, which is important because “the health of your relationships really impacts the health of your life.”
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If you are experiencing teen dating violence, you can contact the Domestic Violence Services of Lancaster County hotline by calling 717-299-1649 or texting “SAFE” to 61222. For individuals ages 13-26, love is respect also has a hotline at 1-866-331-9474 and a text line that can be reached by texting “LOVEIS” to 22522.
More information about Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, as well as available resources for help and education, can be found on the Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County’s website, here.