Welcome back to my second post discussing the multiple issues facing young people in HBO’s hit series, Euphoria. I have found the show incredibly compelling in so many ways, especially from the viewpoint of an educator.
In my previous post, I addressed the prevalence of drug abuse in schools and how that ongoing issue was manifested in the struggles of Rue, the show’s main narrator. Although Rue’s experiences were an amplified version of what many young people face, they were not far from reality.
Aside from showing teen drug abuse in gritty and unapologetic detail, Euphoria also addresses the often-shocking cycle of teen dating violence occurring in young adult relationships.
Maddy Perez (played by Alexa Demie) brings these problems to light as she navigates an increasingly abusive relationship with her on-screen boyfriend, Nate (played by Jacob Elordi). While many of Maddy and Nate’s scenes are difficult to watch, they’re more realistic than many of us may want to believe.
Just how many teenagers experience physical and sexual violence in their relationships? And what can teachers do about it? That’s what we’re here to find out.
Maddy and Nate – An Extreme Example or a Frightening Reality?
One of the most traumatic and emotionally-charged scenes in Euphoria is when Maddy confronts her boyfriend, Nate, over photos she finds on his phone. Nate retaliates by choking her, leaving bruises that Maddy attempts to cover with makeup. In another episode, Nate drives to Maddy’s house with his father’s gun and threatens to kill her if she doesn’t surrender a sex tape of Nate’s father and an underage girl.
Maddy and Nate’s relationship is disturbing enough to watch when the viewer knows it’s fictional. But just how many teenagers experience physical and sexual teen dating violence?
According to a 2019 study conducted by the CDC:
- 1 in 12 teens experience physical dating violence
- 1 in 12 teens experience sexual dating violence
- Female and LGBTQ students experienced a much higher rate of abuse than their heterosexual male counterparts
Those statistics are indeed concerning, but we also have to look at how these abusive relationships impact their victims.
Scared of what might happen to Nate (not herself), Maddy tries to hide her injuries after Nate chokes her, and the evidence is only discovered after school administrators force the issue. And even after Nate is suspended and Maddy is forbidden to see him, she manages a secret meeting with him.
The intense psychological, emotional, and physical toll of Maddy’s violent relationship is glaringly obvious to the viewer, yet she still struggles to separate herself from her abuser. In reality, victims of sexually and physically abusive relationships can also suffer from:
- Depression and anxiety
- Unhealthy behaviors (alcohol and drug abuse)
- Increasingly antisocial behaviors
- Suicidal thoughts
Although over 1.5 million high school girls and boys admitted to being physically or sexually abused by their romantic partners in the last year, abuse can be challenging to identify and report. Here are some suggestions on how educators can help prevent domestic and sexual violence in teens and young adults and what to do if you suspect someone is being abused.
How Educators Can Help Prevent Teen Dating Violence
Keep an Eye Out for “Red Flag” Behaviors
Educating yourself on “red flag behaviors” of teen dating violence is the first step in interrupting the cycle of abuse. Warning signs include:
- Physical injuries
- Increased absenteeism
- Wearing weather-inappropriate clothing (sweaters in hot weather, etc.)
- Change of friends group
- Social isolation
- Missing extracurricular activities
- Extreme mood swings
It’s not always easy to recognize the signs of teen dating abuse, especially if the effects are more psychological than physical. However, the best advice I can give you is to trust your instincts. After all, educators are often the first to notice when their students are struggling.
Communicate Your Concerns to the Victim in a Neutral Manner
If you do happen to notice “red flag behavior,” it’s your responsibility as a Mandated Reporter to address it. Bringing up the subject with your student can be a delicate process, and it’s essential to approach the matter in a neutral manner. Tell your student what you’ve noticed and invite them to talk about it, allowing them to dispute your observations and tell their side of the story.
While you can’t explicitly tell the victim to leave their abusive relationship, you can remind them that they’re worth being treated with love and respect. You also need to be up-front with your student and let them know that you’re required to report any child-on-child abuse to the state as a Mandated Reporter.
Openly Share Resources and Policy Information
One of the most significant ways you can interrupt the cycle of teen dating abuse is by openly discussing and sharing resources with your students and their families. Ensure students access your district’s Title IX coordinator, who handles investigations and accommodations for victims. Additionally, inform your school’s counselors and social workers if you suspect one of your students is being abused.
As heartbreaking as it is to see Maddy trapped in what seems like a hopeless cycle of violence, her reality doesn’t have to become that of your students. By getting to know your students, noticing when they’re struggling, and communicating your concerns to the proper channels, you can do your part to prevent teen dating violence.