1 in 3 youth suffer dating violence; parents need to talk about it

Parents across the country talk to their teens about alcohol, drugs and smoking — but another health concern should be added to the list: dating violence.

“It’s as common as substance use and we know parents talk about that,” said Deinera Exner-Cortens, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary and scientific co-director of PREVNet, a network of Canadian researchers working to promote healthy relationships and eliminate violence.

“I think a lot of people aren’t aware it’s happening, don’t know how common it is, don’t know the impacts it can have.

“We know that a lot of youth are experiencing some form of aggression or violence in their dating or sexual relationships.”

According to data Exner-Cortens and other researchers collected from over 3,000 young Canadians, one in three youth experience dating violence.

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The survey was comprised from information from the 2017/18 Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) study.

The statistics showed in the past year, 12 per cent of youth were physically hurt on purpose by someone they were dating.

Another 28 per cent reported emotional abuse and 18 per cent said a dating partner used social media to hurt, embarrass or monitor them.

“Social media for dating violence, just like bullying,” said Exner-Cortens, “gives access 24/7.”

That makes it more difficult for parents and caregivers to monitor relationships and highlights the need to have dating violence conversations with our children, added Exner-Cortens.

She would like to see schools align the teachings with the health curriculum and chat with students as young as grade six — to focus on what it is, how to recognize dating violence and what to do if a friend talks about it.

“How to have healthy relationships,” Exner-Cortens said. “We need to teach it just like reading and writing.”


How are young people navigating dating during the pandemic?

Kim Ruse, CEO of Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, said a large part of its work is teaching youth and helping them understand the signs of an abusive relationship.

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The shelter group offers the youth programs in 23 schools in Calgary, Alta.

“I think it’s critically important because dating relationships form a pattern of future relationships,” said Ruse.

She stressed parents and caregivers should also start having conversations with children early and building trust before relationships may get more intense.

“It’s really important to recognize as a parent that you don’t have to have all the answers.

“Just a simple, ‘How are things going in that relationship?’ And if you have noticed something that maybe doesn’t sit right with you, start with the ‘How’ questions first.”

Being inquisitive and more importantly, listening, said Ruse, will go a long way with a teen.

“Keep the focus on their experience of the relationship.”

Modelling good boundaries at home helps.

“Let your kids see you work through conflict,” said Ruse. “Let them see it can be done without physical aggression and it can be done respectfully.”

Dating, said Ruse, is a critical developmental stage and teaching youth how to navigate conflict and jealousy will set the stage for future relationships.

“Those early patterns and those early boundaries and learnings and relationships are critically important for how adolescents grow up in to adult relationships.”

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Exner-Cortens echoed that sentiment.

“Youth who suffered dating violence were much more likely to experience intimate partner violence up to 12 years later.

Read more:

Teen dating violence strong predictor of future domestic abuse: University of Calgary study

“These dating relationships, from an adult perspective, may seem trivial and fleeting, but for adolescents, they’re not. They’re very important to their social relationships, to their identity development, sense of belonging,” said Exner-Cortens.

Dating violence also disproportionately impacts marginalized youth, including non-binary, racialized youth and new Canadians. Youth living in poverty were also more at risk of victimization.

“It just speak to how much work we have to do to create safe environments for youth,” said Exner-Cortens.

“The question I ask youth is, ‘Do you feel safe in your relationship?’ Because at the end of the day, if they don’t feel safe, that’s not OK.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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