Monday, November 04, 2013

Teens and Significant Other Relationships

I recently became aware of a serious issue with teenagers and their relationships called breakup violence.   I learned more about it via a CBS show "48 Hours" (mostly about murders) and this one was about a "beautiful" high school couple.  She was the petite, smart girl with the football boyfriend.  But, their senior year, he became more and more possessive and controlling.  She didn't like it and ended the relationship.

He didn't hit her.  He didn't threaten her.  But, during their relationship, he texted her endlessly, told her who to talk to (and not to talk to) and generally tried to control her life. 

From the show:

As authorities learned more about how Lauren Astley's body ended up in the marsh, they started to believe she was a victim of a disturbing trend: breakup violence. It is a crime that has no zip code. It's urban, suburban, and rural. A relationship ends and what happens is an emotional surge of uncontrollable anger. It can be verbal or physical and sometimes, as in the case of Lauren Astley, it can end in death. 

The statistics are startling. According to the American Psychological Association, one in three teens and young adults is the victim of physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse by a dating partner.
"Of teenagers who are in abusive relationships 3 percent will tell an authority figure, 6 percent will tell a family member, but 75 percent will tell a friend," Leone explained. "That's why we focus on kids."

Hand-in-hand with verbal abuse is this story of teens being coerced into sex from NPR.

 A multiple-choice online survey conducted in 2010 and 2011 asked 1,058 teenagers and young adults, ages 14 to 21, whether they'd ever "kissed, touched, or done anything sexual with another person when that person did not want you to?"
  • Nine percent said yes. 
  • Eight percent had kissed or touched someone when they knew the other person did not want to. Three percent got someone to give in to unwilling sex. 
  •  Three percent attempted to rape the person, and 
  • 2 percent completed a rape. (The numbers don't add up because some perpetrators admitted to more than one behavior.)
The results come from a multi-year funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was designed to look for the roots of adult sexual violence. Most adult perpetrators say they first preyed on another while still in their teens.

Three-quarters of the victims were in a romantic relationship with the perpetrator.  The coercion used was almost always psychological, not physical.

When asked who was to blame, half of the perpetrators said the victim was completely responsible; one-third said it was their own fault. "If half of the perpetrators felt the victim was responsible for this, we need to do something," Ybarra, who is president and research director of the Center for Innovative Public Health in San Clemente, Calif.

But Ybarra tells Shots these numbers show that parents need to act and well before their children are 16.

Parents, I remember when there was a murder about 10 years ago of a Roosevelt student (off-site).  There were three boys who all had "J" names and called themselves the J-Crew.   But one boy had a girlfriend who had sex with one of the other boys (she said it was rape but the police could not find the evidence or witness statements to corroborate her story so there was no arrest).  Her boyfriend brushed it off saying, "Girls come and go but bros' are forever."

But, all the while he was plotting to kill his friend and convinced the third friend to participate.  The two boys killed him and hid his body and played innocent to the murder victim's mother.  Of course, it all came out and both those boys - now young men - are in jail for 25+ years.

I tell you this story because when I read it (and then researched it), I was dumbfounded that all the parents seem to think that everything was fine even as one boy's girlfriend had said she had been raped by another boy.  How the parents convinced themselves that it wasn't serious, the boys weren't taking it seriously and did not think back to a time when they were teens and remember how high emotions ran?

Every time you feel tempted to say, "It's just puppy love" or "It's just teenaged angst" , just remember your first love and the intensity of those feelings and emotions.  Watch you teens and talk to your teens.  Here's a link to one group "Love is Respect" and another one, "Break the Cycle."

Tell your teen - boy or girl - that being controlled, followed, arm-grabbing, text-reading, etc, are NOT signs of love.  Being mistreated - verbally or physically - does not mean love. 

I think the great Lesley Gore sings it best in "You Don't Own Me"- let your teens hear this song.  One, because it's a great classic song and two, they will laugh at the staging, hairstyle and orchestration long enough to hear the words.  I always think someone should do an updated version of the song.

Social media adds enormous pressure -- the digital footprint that every young person lives with makes breaking up harder, sometimes humiliating. It's a recipe for disaster.

"... the loss, the breakup, it's tweeted ... it's texted about. It's Facebook-ed," Leone said. "Everybody's electronically communicating about it. And what it tends to do is exacerbate the entirety of the situation.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this...


mirmac1 said...

Yes. Thank you Melissa. As the mother of a 13 yr old girl who, because of her disability, may be more vulnerable to social manipulation and intimidation, I work very hard EVERY DAY to build her up.

Look at the proposed settlement with a disabled student who was assaulted at a district HS. I'm sure Ron English and friends put her and her family through the wringer. How do I know this? Because that's what they do. Apparently they feel that is their mission. NOT ensuring the district follows federal civil rights and disability rights laws. NOT state public disclosure laws. In the words of Raiders owner Al Davis, "Just Win Baby!"

Anonymous said...

Yes, the 48 Hours show on Breakup Violence was heartbreaking. It is something I do worry about for my own 21 year old daughter. The issue of depression seemed to be a factor in the murder. That is also a heartbreaking issue that gets little attention...until tragedy strikes.

A mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

A Mom, that issue of depression struck me as well.

Again, this young man had friends and was a top football player and had received a scholarship to play football in college. But after the breakup, he stopped working out, stopped seeing friends and starting smoking pot. Clearly, he was depressed and his mother tried to get him to go get counseling. It didn't work.

For a lot of kids with no life experience, it all seems overwhelming. As parents, it's important to consider our life experience and what we can use to help our children as they navigate life.

Josh Hayes said...

This is grim stuff, Melissa, but very useful. As a fledgling teacher (I am doing my student teaching at RHS, actually), are there good resources for teachers that would help? Information, strategies, warning signs, and so forth? I am astonished at how little concern most teachers - and I'm not singling out Roosevelt AT ALL in this, but rather basing this on national survey data - have about cyber-bullying and the like. I can't help but feel that we teachers have a role to play here, but I really don't know what it is.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Josh, I can look but I would check out those two websites. The CBS story also mentioned a group that DOES go to schools and talk to teens who then do peer-to-peer talking.

Anonymous said...

This is really scary. I had a best friend who was in an abusive relationship in high school. Worst misery ever! Carolyn Hax and Cary Tennis, whom I think are the best advice columnists out there, recommend The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. I think schools should require all students read it, but in America, parents will start screaming about schools usurping their rights.


Melissa Westbrook said...

CCA, I also recommend The Gift of Fear but Mr. de Becker also wrote one specific to your children, Protecting the Gift.