Recognize the Impact of Violence in Teens’ Lives

Teens are exposed to violence in many different ways.  While considerable attention has been
focused on community and gang violence, a significant number of teens are exposed to
domestic violence and/or are victims of abuse in their own home.  An increasing number of
today’s teens have experienced bullying, cyber bullying (bullying via cell phones and the
Internet), and aggressive behavior from their peers.  The average American teen spends more
than 70 hours a week with some form of media (Internet, television, and video games, etc.), and
a growing body of research indicates that high doses of media violence can compromise
learning and increase aggressive behaviors.

An additional concern is that adolescence is the time when the hidden epidemic of dating abuse
begins.  Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by a dating partner is exceedingly common, starts
early, and affects both females and males.  According to a national survey of high school
students, nearly one in five female teens (17%) and nearly one in 10 male teens (9%) has
experienced physical and/or sexual dating violence (Ackard et al, 2003).  Equally disturbing is the
fact that approximately one-half of the students who were experiencing dating abuse also
reported that they were still in the relationship because they feared physical harm if they tried
to get out of it.  In a survey of male and female college students, more than one-third (35%) of
students had experienced some more of relationship violence before coming to college and 1 in
4  (24.9%).reported experiencing relationship violence during college (Forke et al, 2008).
Dating violence is a school and college health issue.

Teens need a predictable and stable environment at home, at school, and in their communities.
Like younger children, they need to feel safe and nurtured.  Teens growing up in fear and chaos
tend to spend more time in the ‘survival brain’, trying to feel okay, rather than in activities that
develop their pre-frontal cortex.  They adapt to their environment, but at a high cost.  For
example, because these teens spend less time thinking from the cortex, they often have trouble
paying attention, sitting still, and controlling emotions.  In addition, violence in any teen’s life has
serious long-term health effects, including increased risk of involvement in teen pregnancy, risk
of depression or suicidal thoughts, and risk for using tobacco, alcohol, and/or drugs.
Educators and healthcare providers can learn to identify the signs and symptoms of exposure to
violence.  They can intervene appropriately, and refer teens for treatment and care. 

Consider the following tips:

  • Help teens understand that they have the right to say no and the right to be safe.  Make
  •   sure they know where they can get help, if needed.  Contact your local domestic
  •   violence program for posters, brochures, and information about dating violence and
  •   display these in your classroom or waiting room.  Teachers should become familiar with
  •   dating violence prevention curricula that are tied into national academic standards and
  •   that can be integrated into existing classes.
  • Recognize that some populations of adolescents, such as runaway and homeless youth,
  •   those in foster care or juvenile justice programs, and youth in substance abuse
  •   treatment programs, have higher rates of having suffered physical, sexual, and/or
  •   emotional abuse than their peers.  Thus, they will need more intensive support.
  • Promote stronger connections with healthy adults who are trained in adolescent
  •   development and enjoy being with teens.
  • Teach media literacy in the classroom so you can educate students on how gender
  •   stereotyping and violence can influence their beliefs, desensitize them to violence, and
  •   lead to unrealistic expectations about lifestyles and relationships.
  • Encourage parents to set limits on the time teens spent with electronic media.
  • Encourage parents to be closer to their teens simply by spending more time together