Teen dating violence: It's real and it's serious.

Recent studies have shown that one in three teenagers will experience some form of dating violence before the age of 18, said Joelle Piercy, director of outreach and prevention and Safe+Sound, Somerset, the county's leading domestic violence response agency.

She said that would include physical, emotional, sexual and stalking violence. Some teens who are in the early years of dating are still trying to navigate through the messaging.

Teens are susceptible to peer messaging and what they see and hear from those around them.

It's also a learned behavior. Piercy said millions of children a year witness domestic violence in the home. Unfortunately, what happens is that they start to repeat these patterns in their own relationships once they start dating.

Piercy said everyone deserves power and control over their lives. That is the ability to make decisions, the ability to make physical and emotional boundaries and the ability to give or take away consent.

What happens with abuse is the pattern of behaviors works to take away that power and control. It works to take away someone's ability to make decisions for themselves, limiting their power and control.

The warning signs of teen dating violence can take on many forms, she said. It could look like using jealousy as an excuse to control who someone talks to, or make someone feel bad for spending time with other people.

It could be physically hurting or threatening to physically hurt. It could be forcing or pressuring someone to engage in sexual activity. It could be threats.

"If you leave me, I'll hurt you. I'll hurt myself. I'll hurt someone else," she said.

It could be violence such as smashing walls, locker doors or using intimidation. There is also digital abuse. That could be controlling who the other person talks to digitally, sneaking into their accounts, forcing them to give them passwords or even turning other people against them, and getting them in trouble through different social media platforms.

To cultivate a healthy relationship and avoid dangers, it's important to ask teens what they want from a relationship. Piercy said that way, when they start looking at these  behaviors, they can decipher if this is safe and healthy and a way to flourish with their partner.

Piercy said it's also important to practice "rights and responsibility." It means a teen has a right to be safe and they have a responsibility to keep the other person safe. A teen has a right to not be abused and they have the responsibility to not abuse someone else. Both people in the relationship have these equal rights and responsibilities, as well as equal power and control.

Parents should have conversations about relationships with their teens and have them early. Piercy said they don't have to wait until their teens start dating. Start talking to them about friendships. She said teens actually want to talk about their relationships.

She said parents should take teen relationships seriously too. Even if you don't think the relationship is important, it's important to the teen. Not talking about them can have lifelong consequences and impacts if it's not a safe relationship.

If a teen is involved in a violent relationship, it's important to seek out proper resources. Piercy said in New Jersey, every single county has access to domestic violence organizations that provide services for people experiencing intimate partner violence.

Also, www.loveisrespect.org is the national service that provides 24/7 support for teens and for those caring for teens who are struggling with abusive relationships.

"We don't want to take away more power and control from that person who is experiencing that loss in a relationship. So giving them the choice and giving them the information and knowledge that they can take the steps moving forward to keep themselves safe is important," Piercy said.

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