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February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month.

According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, teen dating violence (also called adolescent relationship abuse) is unfortunately common. The abuse can be verbal, emotional, physical or sexual. It can happen in person or electronically. Unfortunately, many teens have experienced violence in different forms at the hands of someone they consider to be a romantic partner. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 1.5 million high school-age teens have suffered physical abuse by a partner. In 2013, a CDC survey found that about 20 percent of girls and 10 percent of boys in the United States. had experienced physical or sexual violence in a dating relationship in the past year.

Equally alarming is the fact that studies show that three out of four parents have never spoken to their children about dating violence.*

Why is abuse in adolescent relationships so common? Adolescence is a time when young people are beginning to explore their sexual and gender identity, attractions, relationships and dating. They are also exposed to violence and abusive relationships in the media, their communities, and sometimes in their own homes. The middle school years are a key time to discuss relationship abuse and sexual violence and, more importantly, to emphasize healthy and respectful relationships.

So, what can we do to keep our young people safe? There are many answers to that question. One solution lies in how we tackle the problem in our communities. One of the studies led by Elizabeth Miller, MD, PhD—professor of pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and director of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC—is a violence prevention program called Coaching Boys into Men. Created by Futures Without Violence (www.coachescorner.org), this program trains athletic coaches to talk to their male athletes about their role as upstanders in their community. “Upstanders” means being the person who stands up and speaks out when peers are engaging in disrespectful and harmful behaviors. The program also emphasizes respect in relationships, consent and nonviolence. It challenges traditional stereotypes of what it means to be a man. The program has already been shown to work with high schoolers. At the end of the sports season, male athletes who got the program were more likely to intervene when they saw their peers engaging in harmful behaviors. One year later, the program’s effects were still there. The boys were less likely to ignore or go along with disrespectful behaviors they saw among their peers. They were also much less likely to abuse a dating partner.

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