We are a violent nation. Sometimes that aggression is directed externally, with over 17,000 homicides every year. At other times, we harm ourselves, with over 44,000 suicides.
There are around 1,300 child homicide victims every year, an extraordinarily high number compared with other industrialized countries. A recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine provided new insights into the killing of our kids. Avanti Adhia and colleagues found that about 20% of child homicides were related to intimate partner violence.
The most common cases involved an ex-partner who took actions against an estranged spouse and then killed the children. Extremely violent acts typically occurred as a result of a breakup, separation, or custody issue. In many of these situations, the perpetrator then killed himself.
This research involved reading and categorizing how our kids are being killed. These are very disturbing stories---the drowning of a five and six-year-old by a dad who then hanged himself, the hanging of a 1-year-old and 2-year-old by a dad who then killed himself. In other situations, children were killed by ex-boyfriends of a mom.
Violence in intimate relationships starts early. The Centers for Disease Control reported that about 23% of woman and 14% of men experience violence from their partner while dating as teens.
Here is what I tell these teens when they begin dating.
- One strike, you’re out. I am amazed at how victims (mostly younger girls) can justify and minimize the verbal and physical aggression that occurs to them while dating.
Many young people feel that they can change the behavior of the aggressor by understanding, support, and avoiding the triggers that prompted the violence. Love and acceptance won’t change the violent ways some teens deal with frustration.
I tell teens that for their emotional and physical safety, they should immediately separate from their partner if there is a single instance of actual or threatened violence. Most teens do not accept that advice. The desire to be loved causes these kids to minimize the risks.
- For aggressive teens, stop dating. Many kids start early dating relationships as a way to deal with a family history of turmoil and disturbance. Teens from dysfunctional families tell me they would never drink or intentionally act aggressively given the traumatic experiences they had in such households.
However, for many kids, their families provided the role model for how to resolve conflicts and deal with difficulties. If kids have any history of violence, I urge them to avoid intimate relationships until they learn how to manage their emotions without hitting and abusing other people.