Teen Dating Violence Awareness month aims to identify abuse in relationships

Katherine Ranzenberger

It can start with something as simple as an off-hand comment about your hair. Then it turns into degrading the color of your shirt. From there, it can change to keeping you from spending time with your friends. It can even escalate to them hitting you.

But then he or she apologizes. You think your significant other has changed. Promises it won’t happen again are made.

But the little comments start coming again. It’s a vicious cycle, Kimberly Marsico said, and it’s one that even adults have a hard time getting out of.

“It is a problem,” Marsico, a counselor who specializes in teens and trauma, said. “It’s very prevalent. Young girls don’t know what the signs are for abusive and manipulative relationships.”

February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. While both men and women can be victims in abusive relationships, Marisco said she tends to see more girls in their teens as the victims rather than the aggressors.

Marsico Counseling Services owner Kimberly Marsico poses in her office Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. She specializes in teens and trauma. Bill Kalina photo

“A lot of girls think that’s OK (to be abused),” she said. “The girls I’ve worked with, it’s building their self-worth and their self-esteem. They think they can fix the boys, but they can’t because they need to fix themselves first.”

There are things parents can do to help, Marsico said.

“Open the lines of communication,"she said. "Discuss what abuse looks like. Talk to them about what a healthy relationship should look like.”

Sometimes abusers see similar relationships at home, she said. Educating teens and giving them examples of healthy relationships will help end the cycle of abuse.

Pennsylvania celebrated Teen Health Week at the end of January, but this is an issue that’s around all year, Marsico said.

Many resources for identifying and dealing with abusive relationships are out there. The Center for Disease Control has a guide for spreading awareness of teen dating violence.

“Dating violence can have a negative effect on health throughout life,” the guide reads. “Youth who are victims are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, engage in unhealthy behaviors, like using tobacco, drugs and alcohol, or exhibit antisocial behaviors and think about suicide. Youth who are victims of dating violence in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college.”

LoveisRespect.org also has a quiz for identifying an abusive relationship, including how to identify emotional abuse. Marsico said it’s important for adults to be aware of the signs so they can help their kids.

“It’s such a big deal,” she said. “Sexual and physical abuse are awful. Emotional abuse stays with you forever. When girls and boys allow that to happen, it’s damaging. It carries over to the next relationship and into other parts of their life.”