* The names of the author and anyone mentioned within this article have been changed to protect their privacy*
A study undertaken by the University recently concluded that nearly a quarter (22 per cent) of 14-year-old girls have self-harmed in the last year. Whilst this issue is much more complex than just having one cause, pressure on these girls to engage in sexual activities at younger and younger ages is surely one of them. From your boyfriend or girlfriend pressurising you to become sexually active, to the popular belief among the youth that conceding to these expectations is ‘normal’, we have a warped perspective of relationships. This must change.
As we develop into adults we realise how important our teenage relationships were. Though we didn’t ‘find the one’, they have massively influenced our character development. But when these relationships enforce pressure upon an individual to participate in sexual activities at such a young age, the effects upon an individual’s mental health can be huge.
As a young teen, I was naïve. It may differ for my readers, but I can justifiably say that as an adult, I have an entirely different perspective on events that occurred during my teenage years. Emotionally and physically abusive relationships may not show up as red flags to an oblivious kid. Some teens ‘brush it off’ and that is where the problem starts. Without the realisation of being in an unhealthy relationship, we accept the emotional and physical abuse. We believe the abuse hurled at us every day. We have been so down-trodden we begin to justify it. This eradication of self-esteem and self-worth is one of the factors fuelling the current mental health crisis in students. Why should the population of young people be subjected to this? Is this what we really want for teens and young adults?
To worsen this acceptance of abuse, within schools it can appear ‘cool’ and ‘grown-up’ if you partake in sexual activities. It becomes a way to be ‘part of the popular crowd’. Even if the realisation that you are in an abusive relationship dawns, another factor withholding teens from freeing themselves arises as they accept that this relationship is what it takes to be part of that ‘popular’ crowd.
I know this first-hand. My personal experience with this is why I am so passionate about changing these nonsensical beliefs. I want to raise awareness in young teens to either help themselves or help others they see experiencing such abuse. I was just 13 when I got into my first relationship. Jason (name changed for anonymity) was part of the popular crowd, we were the same age, and all the girls wanted him. I thought it was astonishing that he chose me but I was oh so innocent. Underneath his innocent smile was a manipulative and emotionally abusive boyfriend. I remember to this day, seven years later, the abuse I received. “You don’t look that pretty, but you have a good personality.” “Do you want to hear the things my friends have said about you because I can do so much better, they say you’re not worth it.” These sentences spoken to me still stick in my mind.
He repetitively pressured me into having sex with him at age 13. I did not concede, but still he touched me in inappropriate places, grabbed my wrists so tightly that I ran away in pain in fear of what he would do next. I was 13. No-one should have to go through this abuse, especially not someone as young as I was. Yet I held my tongue. I didn’t think anything was wrong with the relationship. Jason had successfully obliterated my self-esteem and self-worth, I thought I was a piece of shit that nobody could love.
That was the trigger; self-harm, eating disorders and my unhealthy coping mechanisms ensued. I won’t go into detail about those, the most important thing is that I have recovered. I am writing this as I know I am not the only person who has had this experience; to show it is nothing to be ashamed of. Nevertheless, only when we begin to recognise the extent that this problem drives the mental health crisis, can we start to make a difference; providing more support for teens and young adults. It is an objective we must try to meet. Nobody should ever be abused, whether it be physically or emotionally.