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COMMENTARY: Warning signs that your teen is in abusive relationship

February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. It is a national effort to raise awareness and protect teens from violence.

Every year, approximately 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience dating violence from a dating partner. About one in 10 teens who have been on a date have also been physically abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the last year. Twenty-five percent of high school girls have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse or date rape. Youth violence is a leading cause of death and nonfatal injuries in the U.S.

Teen dating violence is defined as a pattern of abuse or threat of abuse against teenage dating partners. Teen dating violence includes verbal, emotional, physical, sexual and online. Some examples include name-calling, insults or put-downs in public or in private, verbal, written or other threats of violence, threatening to out someone's sexual orientation before they are ready, isolating a dating partner from friends and family, sexual coercion, forced sexual activities or violent acts that cause significant physical injury, stalking, harassment or monitoring partner activities.

Only one-third of teens who experience dating violence will tell anyone.

These are some warning signs you can look out for:

• Isolation. Does one teen try to keep his/her partner away from other people? Is a teen withdrawn and antisocial for no apparent reason? Controlling and possessive behavior can be a sign of an abusive relationship.

• Bad mood swings. Fluctuations in mood are normal during the teenage years; however, extreme changes in mood may indicate that there is a more serious problem. If a teen is screaming and yelling one moment and quiet and remote the next, it may be a sign of dating violence.

• Sexual activity. Sex can be used as a form of control. When sex is a part of a teenage relationship it is important to make sure that both teens are on the same page. When teens are having sex because they want control or fear the consequences of saying no, it may be a sign of an abusive relationship.

• Physical harm. Unexplained physical injuries are often a red flag in abusive relationships.

• Bad grades. School performance is often one of the first things to suffer when teens are involved in an abusive relationship.

Teens who are involved in abusive relationships are more likely to be involved in abusive relationships as adults. It is known that three in four parents have never talked to their children about domestic violence.

Early intervention is the best way to prevent this vicious cycle from happening. One way you can make a change is by informing your teens of what a healthy relationship looks like. Healthy relationships have these traits in common:

• Full of energy. You have time to do most everything you want and need to do.

• Responsible. You don't forget all your obligations to others and responsibilities, such as school or friends).

• Enjoyable. You might argue sometimes, but not constantly or violently.

• Always changing. You learn more about each other every day and can accept each other's differences.

• Open and honest. Both partners are on an even playing field.

• Not based on sex. Sex is never a test or proof of love. You can't make someone love you by having sex with them. Just because they have sex with you, doesn't mean they love you either.

Early intervention is the best way to stop abusive behavior before it escalates. If you need tips on how to communicate with your teen Support Within Reach is available 24/7. Visit us at Supportwithinreach.org to see about services in your area.