Relationships are a part of growing up for every teenager. Everyone remembers their first kiss and their first love. The most important thing teens must understand though is that not all relationships are healthy.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen dating violence includes four types of behavior: physical violence, when a partner hurts or tries to hurt a partner by physical force; sexual violence, when a partner forces or attempts to force physical and nonphysical sexual acts without consent; psychological aggression, using verbal and nonverbal communication to harm a person emotionally or excerpt control over them; and stalking, a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear for one’s safety.

The CDC’s statistics show just how prevalent the problem is as one in 11 female teens and one in 15 male teens have reported experiencing physical dating violence. One in nine female teens and one in 36 male teens have reported experiencing sexual dating violence.

The consequences of teen dating violence can have an immediate and lasting effect on teen victims who are still developing both physically and mentally. It can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety, abusing substances such as drugs and alcohol, lead to antisocial behaviors such as lying, theft, bullying or hitting, and cause suicidal thoughts.

It’s important for teens to be educated on what a healthy relationship looks like and learn the signs of teen dating violence. That’s exactly why they need to hear the words of Valerie Williams.

Williams is a Glynn County resident who has traveled the world to raise awareness of domestic violence by telling her own story. She was shot three times, including once in the head, by her husband of nine years in 1996.

Williams didn’t consider herself a victim of abuse, but she began examining the signs and patterns of domestic violence and realized she had misconceptions about it. That led her to write five books and start Lovesmart, Inc., a nonprofit that focuses on teen dating violence.

She told The News that unhealthy behaviors such as jealously, control and manipulation are misunderstood as evidence of a romantic partner’s affection or love in a young person’s eyes. Technology has only exasperated the problem.

Teens who believe they are experiencing teen dating violence, or know someone who is, should call the National Teen Dating Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you are interested in helping Lovesmart, visit their website at lovesmartinc.org.

It’s important that we help teens understand what a healthy relationship looks like. Learning now will benefit them as they get older.

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