Violence and abuse among teens: It’s not ok

Adventist Risk Management reminds ministry leaders to have guidelines in place to combat against teen violence.

Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Elizabeth Camps, writer and public relations specialist, Adventist Risk Management

As leaders, we train staff members and volunteers before they are permitted to work with children. We regularly conduct background checks to be sure those who care for our children are safe. We are vigilant and address any form of abuse as soon as we become aware of it. These actions are vital to maintaining the safety of our young people from those who wish to do harm.

We need to remember abuse can happen, not only between a child and an adult, but between children as well. This is true not only of young children, but also of teenagers. As teenagers’ freedom and responsibility increase, they face additional risks for bullying and abuse in the context of dating.

Abuse Among Teens

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teen dating violence is the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional abuse in a dating relationship, and includes stalking. Unfortunately, cases of teen dating violence or abuse may often go unreported.
“Teen victims tolerate violence because they feel powerless,” said Dr. Ludy Green, an expert on U.S. domestic violence and human trafficking issues. “They can’t escape the relationship they are in. They have been trapped by this invisible fence that has been put in their mind brick by brick, piece by piece and they feel that they cannot leave. Of course, they want to leave, but they can’t.”
Perpetrating abuse can be the result of an earlier childhood experience. A teenager might bully or abuse others when verbal and/or physical abuse is common in the home. They may believe this type of abusive behavior is acceptable as they grow older. This could also lead to the use of violence as a way to solve problems or show leadership and strength in peer relationships. Furthermore, abusive childhood experiences can also result in teens choosing friends who mistreat them. reports that about 1.5 million high school boys and girls in the United States admit to being intentionally hit or physically harmed in the last year by someone with whom they are romantically involved. Additionally, one in three young people will be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship. Unfortunately, only one-third of teens who were in an abusive relationship confided in someone about the violence. explains that abused teens hesitate to seek help because they do not want to expose themselves or are unaware of the laws surrounding domestic violence.

The Long-term Effects of Abuse at the Adolescent Age


Abuse at any age has long-lasting effects, and can drastically alter the person’s emotional and mental development, according to Dr. Kiti Freier Randall, pediatric neurodevelopmental psychologist and director of psychological services in the Department of Pediatrics at Loma Linda University Health. “The impact on the victim of having violence perpetrated upon them can be psychologically damaging,” said Dr. Randall. “It’s the emotional and psychological impact that is the most long-lasting. The victim feels shamed, worthless, and helpless. These emotions end up being struggles that they often have as adults as well.”
Those difficulties may often appear in later life as depression, anxiety, or a sense of helplessness. Alternatively, the victim may feel the need to be aggressive or a fighter for self-preservation.
As ministry leaders, we need to make sure that we are not only preventing abuse among children but young adults as well.

As ministry leaders, we need to make sure that we are not only preventing abuse among children but young adults as well. 

How to Identify and Handle Teen Dating Violence

It is essential that your ministry has guidelines in place, so there’s no question about what to do if a situation of teen violence or abuse occurs. “There needs to be clearly stated policy, including social media parameters and consequences to your enrollment in school,” said Dr. Randall. “You need to show that it is not tolerated, it is not how we treat each other. So many kids say later in life that they never realized being hit or pushed around isn’t just a part of a dating relationship. Keep an eye out, educate young people and inform them on what is a healthy relationship.”
At times, it may seem as though this is not the responsibility of the church or school organization. However, allowing this behavior to creep into an organization’s activities or to be aware of it and do nothing sends the message that this type of behavior is allowed and acceptable.
If you see violent behavior or abuse taking place, it is your responsibility as a leader to step in immediately. “Don’t ignore it, it won’t go away,” says Dr. Randall. “Without intervention, they get worse, they won’t get better. Sometimes it is one fight. But you need to address it.”
If a teen confides that he or she is being abused by a dating partner or friend, the first step is safety. “Find a way to make them safe. Safety is number one,” says Dr. Randall. “Make sure there is a plan in place to make them safe that day.”
The next step is to implement consequences for the perpetrator and apply your organization’s policy on teen abuse right away, including reporting the abuse incident to authorities. Then, make sure there is a plan for ongoing safety for the victim, and take intentional action for both the victim and the perpetrator. “You want removal from the ability to harm and at the same time you want them to get healthier,” said Dr. Randall. “You want some kind of intervention such as juvenile social skills groups and anger management programs.” 

Preventing Teen Dating Violence


As a youth leader, it is important to take proactive steps towards preventing violent or abusive behavior altogether. You can do this by providing positive activities for teens, educating them on healthy relationships, and creating a bond of trust between adults and teens. This way, if a teen does experience abuse, he or she feels comfortable enough to tell an adult about the incident.
“If your teen is being abused and you identify that, the first thing: do not judge,” said Dr. Green. “Sit down with your child and listen [to] what’s happening [and] how they are feeling. They have to express themselves … And then you can take action.”
Talk to your school or church’s leadership about creating a policy and guidelines to guide you in the event that teen violence and abuse occur among teens in your care. For more on Child Protection and Safety, visit ARM’s Church or School Safety pages.