Beware of controlling or abusive relationships
Relationships during the teen years, be they friendly or romantic, are an important part of developing character and values.
The trial and error, ups and downs, mistakes and spats that characterize teen relationships teach us all how to exist in the world. However, when a minor disagreement becomes a violent confrontation or the needs of one partner become a point of control for the other, the relationship crosses the line: It becomes abusive.
Because most of the cases addressed at shelters and crisis centers involve adults, many people are unaware teenagers face a significant problem regarding abusive relationships. According to a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately one in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. Such a high level of abuse is not merely a problem; it's an epidemic.
Tragically, this statistic does not even touch on the incidence of psychological abuse among teens, an issue that is arguably an even bigger problem than its physical and sexual counterparts. Unfortunately, as teens have limited experience in romantic relationships, they often don't recognize the violent and abusive elements in their relationships, said Kelly Kliener of Victim Services of Rochester. "Even when the problem is identified, the victims often blame themselves."
In relationships, control is too often an issue. Jealousy and inexperience often lead teens to make unrealistic demands on their partners. According to Kliener, these demands can include decreasing contact with friends and family, thereby depriving the victim of the support structures they desperately need in order to make positive choices in their lives.
Controlling relationships are not limited to dating. Friendships can turn poisonous as well, especially when one friend constantly demands to be another's first priority and attempts to dictate what their friend does and with whom. Additionally, when teens have been raised in an emotionally unhappy or unhealthy family setting, they are at risk of accepting abusive relationships as normal and not attempting to make positive changes.
Sadly, the psychological damage incurred by a controlling or abusive relationship can extend far beyond the relationship itself. One of the facets of a controlling relationship, the devaluing of another person, leads to decreased self worth and even depression. A negative self-image, whether as a result of upbringing or past relationships, can damage the potential for future relationships and can establish an unhealthy pattern of seeking abusive dating partners or friends.
When one partner is constantly telling the other "I'm sorry, but you make me so mad," or finding other ways to place the blame, the relationship is abusive.
"It becomes a cycle of escalating tension, a big fight, a make-up honeymoon stage and then a return to normal only to begin again," Kliener said.
Seeking support can be difficult for teens who are scared, too proud or feel they have too much invested in the relationship.
"Sometimes teens have had conflict with their parents over a partner and feel that they are accepting defeat by admitting it wasn't a good situation," Kliener said.
However, support systems and counseling are highly accessible at local high schools and in the community. Web sites, including ww.picar.org and www.mcbw.org, provide facts about abuse and offer support. Victim Services, for victims of abuse, can be reached at 285-8242.
High school can be a wonderful time to learn and grow through relationships with others. Care enough to take control of yourself.
Mikaela Hagen is a senior at Mayo High School. To respond to an opinion column, call 252-1111, category TEEN (8336); write Teen Beat, Post-Bulletin, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 559036118 or send e-mail to email@example.com.