Younger teen dating increases risk of abuse

A new survey finds high levels of abuse reported in dating relationships between teens and "tweens," children between the ages of 11 and 14.

Nearly half of all tweens and more than one in three 11- to 12-year-olds who took part in the Liz Claiborne Inc. Tweens Relationship Study said they have been in a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship.

Among 11- to 14-year-olds who have been in a relationship, 62 percent said they know friends who have been verbally abused, 36 percent said they know peers who have been pressured to do things they didn't want to do and 15 percent said they know peers who have been pressured into having sex.

"Really, I think that it's absurd, because I don't understand at 11 and 13, what kind of relationship are you really having?" said Brije Smith, 16, a high  junior who said she never dreamed of dating at age 11.

Sami Hightshoe is part of a public awareness campaign about teen dating and abuse.

"I was 14, and me and my boyfriend starting dating. It was all OK at first, and then a few months later, he started controlling every move," she said. "He told me what to wear, how to act, what to do, who I could hang out with."

Chris and Ann Burke said they are fighting back for their 23-year-old daughter, Lindsay, who was killed by an ex-boyfriend.

"If she were educated, and if parents in particular were educated, then we would have been able to understand the behaviors that she was exhibiting," Ann Burke said. "We would have known what warning signs to look for, and I think it would've been easier to get her out of that relationship earlier on."

Half of all tweens admit they don't know the warning signs of a bad relationship.

Experts said abusers tend to be jealous, easily angered and controlling.

The abuse victim may cancel plans suddenly, give up things that used to be important to them and experience dramatic changes in appearances or grades.

The Burkes want teenage dating education to be part of the curriculum at every middle school and high school in the country.

"Lindsey truly could have been anyone's daughter, typical American girl, and if it could happen to Lindsey, it could happen to anyone," Ann Burke said.