Teen romances can be beautiful, tender affairs that strengthen the emotional bonds between two people. Many "high school sweethearts" go on to marry and have children of their own. A loving, supportive relationship between peers in a teen's formative years can be a boon to personal growth and social development.
But not all teen relationships turn out well. Young and inexperienced, many teens do not understand the signs of abuse. Many teens, particularly girls, mistake an abusive or controlling relationship for love. Approximately 9% of high school students are physically struck or injured by their significant other, but without previous healthy relationships to compare to their own lives, they believe that this abuse in their relationships is normal. They carry the bruises of their abuser with self-deluding dignity, covering the scars with make-up and clothing, and continue smiling in spite of the pain.
Abusive relationships are not always physical. Psychological and emotional abuse can be even more traumatizing to teens. Abusive partners will threaten or belittle their significant other through name calling, bullying, or shaming, and will often try to limit the victim's access to positive support structures such as friends and family. Teens maintain abusive relationships primarily out of fear of being alone or because of the status that being in a relationship gives them with their peers. The teen social structure often leaves them with no way out.
Sexual abuse is perhaps the most heinous form of dating violence. Date rape and other forms on non-consensual sex are common in abusive relationships, where the teen victim is often misled by their partner into believing that their sexual activities are normal. Sexual abuse can also be non-physical, in the form of harassment or bullying in a sexual context.
Many teens also experience drug addiction at the behest of their significant other. Teens, in spite of their inherent rebelliousness, are highly trusting of their peers, particularly if two people are engaged in a romantic relationship. Many teens will take advantage of that trust in their partner, and the ongoing health effects of this situation can be dire.
The problem of abusive teen relation extends well beyond high school. According to the, 22% of men and 15% of women in abusive relationships as adults first experienced abuse during their teen years. In addition, individuals who experience dating violence early in life are more likely to develop unhealthy eating habits and suffer from depression and anxiety later in life. To end abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault, the problem must be addressed at its source.