Dating violence: Young love shouldn't be dangerous

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Romance is top of mind for many young people in Michigan planning to celebrate Valentine's Day this weekend. And while teen romance can be tricky, it shouldn't be dangerous.

Paige Welch — a senior at Dewitt High School — is on the Michigan Youth Girls Advisory Board, a program of the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health.

Welch explained that many teens don't know that relationship violence can be physical, psychological, or emotional. She said manipulating or controlling behaviors are becoming more common in young relationships, primarily due to social media.

"It's very hard to be happy and to feel safe when you're being questioned about who you're talking to," said Welch, "you're being questioned about where you are, and especially when it starts getting into giving passwords."

During Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month in February, Welch and other advisory-board members are educating their peers about healthy relationships. It's estimated that one in three teens experiences some type of abuse by a romantic partner.

An unhealthy relationship may start with control struggles, pressure, and inconsiderate behavior, and can escalate into more abusive tactics — with accusations, isolation and physical violence. Welch noted that it can happen in all types of relationships, regardless of a person's sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender.

"For some reason, society does have a harder time believing that it does happen to males," said Welch. "But it can happen to anyone, at any time in their life. And when it does happen, they need to have resources. And it's hard for males to get the resources when it's primarily geared towards women."

Welch encouraged parents to be proactive and talk to their children about healthy relationships and consent before they start dating. She added that the conversation should be factual, realistic, and honest.

"When we teach our younger kids about stuff, we don't use proper terminology because we're afraid that we can't share things with them like that yet," said Welch. "When in reality, it's the perfect time to teach them those things, because they're going to be receptive when they're little than when they're older. "

Teens and parents can get more information on healthy relationships and abusive behaviors online at loveisrespect.org.

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