Editor's note: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Given the recent news headlines, children and teens are asking their parents about assault and abuse, and many parents feel uncomfortable and unprepared to respond. They are not alone – the majority of parents (81 percent) admit to not knowing if or not believing dating violence is an issue among teens, but it is a critical topic to discuss. Dating violence often begins in adolescence and can have devastating short- and long-term consequences, yet only 1 in 3 teens in a violent relationship tells anyone about the abuse.

The scope of the issue goes well beyond "date rape" because it encompasses any exploitation of power between dating partners in an unhealthy relationship. Here's what you need to know:

  • Not all dating violence is physical. In fact, there are several different forms of dating violence:
    • Physical: Hitting, slapping, kicking, and punching
    • Psychological/Emotional: Demeaning (i.e., name calling, humiliating), limiting time with family and friends, and threating physical or sexual violence
    • Sexual: Forcing a partner to participate in a sex act without consent
    • Stalking: Unwanted attention that causes concern for safety, such as repeated phone calls, text messages, or e-mails, leaving notes, and watching, following, or spying
  • Nearly 1.5 million high school students are physically abused by their partner every year.
  • Women who report experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV) in high school are more likely to also experience IPV in their college relationships.
  • Among adult victims of IPV, 22 percent of women and 15 percent of men reported first experiencing some form of dating violence between the ages of 11 and 17 years.

Dating violence can be extended through technology. In a survey of 7-12 grade students in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, more than a quarter of youth in a relationship said that they experienced some form of victimization through technology in the prior year. There was also a link between technology-perpetrated violence and other forms of dating violence, such as physical victimization.

The potential long-term physical and psychological consequences are clear: adolescent victims are at higher risk for depression, substance abuse, suicide attempts, eating disorders, poor school performance, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and further victimization.

What should you tell your teen?

While both females and males can be victims of dating violence, the highest rates are seen among girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24.

Youth in same-sex relationships are at even higher risk of experiencing dating violence: A study released by the Urban Institute showed significantly higher rates of dating violence among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth than among non-LGB youth.

So what can parents do? First, start the conversation early, even if you don't think your tween or teen is dating yet. Ask your sons and daughters about their perception of healthy – and unhealthy – relationships, correct any misperceptions, and display healthy adult relationships.

Let your children know that any type of violence or abuses of power are never ok in a relationship, and discuss the options available if they witnesses dating abuse or experience it themselves.

Remember to tell your teens that they can come to you if they are in a relationship that makes them nervous or scared, and that you will support them as they make the best decisions for their well-being. You can find more tips at the loveisrespect website.

In partnership with Lutheran Settlement House, Children's participates in the STOP IPV program. STOP IPV encourages and supports primary care and emergency department healthcare providers to identify families experiencing intimate partner violence. STOP IPV also provides counseling and referrals to community services for the whole family, including the potentially traumatized children and adolescents.

You can do your part to break the cycle of violence by starting the dialogue early and making it safe for your child or adolescent to report abuse to you. Know that your child's healthcare provider can be an excellent resource for these difficult conversations and make the appropriate referrals. For more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's teen dating violence prevention initiative, click here.

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