By Samurai Dad
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. You can help reduce teen violence by helping to educate others about the signs of teen dating abuse and how to help a victim. See the resources below for more information.
Teenage dating abuse affects millions of teens in the U.S each year. Abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of gender. It can be emotional, physical or both. As a parent of a teen beginning to date, you can help them recognize the signs of an abusive dating relationship. Middle school is a good time to start this conversation.
How do you talk with your teen about Teenage Dating Violence (TDV)? Communicating with your teen, especially about difficult topics, is often the most challenging problem parents face. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
• Review teenage dating violence facts
• Understand the signs of abusive and healthy dating behaviors
• Have open, ongoing discussions that are respectful of your teen’s perspective
This isn’t a fly-by discussion, so dedicate one-on-one time and plan to revisit the topic in the future. It may be uncomfortable. Your kids may be uncomfortable, too, but don’t let them wave you off. While he or she may appear to recognize the risks, the perception of teen violence may come from gender expectations, peer anecdotes or unreliable sources.
The Centers for Disease Control identifies family connectedness as a major protective factor against a teen becoming abused or an abuser. That means that no matter how much independence your teen has claimed, you’re still essential to your teen. You still have the power to help. That knowledge may give you the incentive you need to push through the discomfort and work together to forge an agreement about what to do if abuse happens to your teen or a friend.
Here are other reasons why raising your family’s awareness of dating violence or abuse is worth the effort:
Teen dating violence spans every ethnicity and socioeconomic status. It can affect LGBTQ and heterosexual dating relationships. The victim can be a boy or a girl. The abuser can be a boy or a girl.
Left unchecked, it can have long-lasting and even devastating consequences for a teen’s present and future.
Consider this startling statistic from LoveisRespect.org: Nearly 70% of women and 54% of men who have been abused physically, sexually or emotionally by a partner were first abused in their late childhood to young adulthood. Relationship patterns and self-image formed in the teen years leave an imprint that can last a lifetime.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teens who are abused are also more likely to:
“Experience symptoms of depression and anxiety;
Engage in unhealthy behaviors, like using tobacco, drugs, and alcohol;
Exhibit antisocial behaviors, like lying, theft, bullying or hitting and
Think about suicide”.
No one is immune, but there is hope. While you can’t inoculate your kid like you did to protect them from disease, you can arm them – and yourself- with information to reduce the risk.
How Common is Teen Dating Violence?
The most powerful defense against abuse is becoming familiar with the signs of an unhealthy relationship. As you’ll notice from the stories in the resources at the end of this article, emotional and physical abuse escalates along the same trajectory of more controlling behaviors on the part of the abusive partner. In story after story, the early warning signs were explained away or tolerated. The behaviors listed below may appear suddenly or develop gradually as an abuser gains confidence in his or her influence.
According to LoveisRespect.org, here’s are some common signs of abuse in a relationship:
- Extreme jealousy or possessiveness – The relationship develops too quickly. An abusive partner feels threatened by other relationships.
- Emotional isolation – The abuser isolates their partner from friends and family.
- Control through electronics – The abuser excessively texts and checks in. He/She demands immediate responses to questions like – “Where are you?”, “Who are you with?”,”Where are you going?” and “When will you be back?” They may access a partner’s device and rifle through their incoming and outgoing messages.
- Changes in behavior – The abused teen shows uncharacteristically negative changes in routines, attitude, outlook, appearance, grades or experimentation with unhealthy behaviors
- Blames others – The abuser doesn’t take responsibility for abusive actions or behaviors.
- Sexual coercion – The abuser applies pressure to perform sexual activity.
- The abused teen shows a fear of provoking a partner and defends irrational behavior.
- Anxiety or depression – The abused teen signals a loss of interest in passions, extracurricular activities or social events. It may accompany a preoccupation with or talk about suicide.
- Physical signs – The abused teen shows signs of bodily harm, self-mutilation, or unexplained bruises/scratches/cuts
- A history of relationships that have ended badly – The abuser refuses to end a relationship after a break-up or retaliates against a partner.
Visualizing Healthy Relationships
As important as it is to be alert for the red flags that signal a bad relationship, it’s also empowering to visualize a healthy relationship. This is especially true if your teen has little dating experience. Ideally, before beginning to date, your teen would have supportive relationships to emulate.
Encourage your teen to reflect on the qualities they would want in a romantic partner in a journal. How would he or she want a date to behave when they were alone, with friends and with family? Consider this reflection a living document to be updated as their view of dating matures. It’s important that your teen chooses well; the patterns that he or she establishes in relationships at this stage of life can have a long-lasting impact in later partnerships.
Signs of a healthy relationship include:
- Being treated with respect.
- A partner who wants you to surround yourself with people who appreciate and support you.
- A partner who supports you in making decisions that keep you safe, healthy and comfortable.
How to Talk About It – Be Direct and Patient
Sometimes parents frame uncomfortable discussion topics in euphemisms. We tiptoe, we dance around a topic. If teens gaze blankly at you, they’re not getting the veiled message. Use plain language to talk about the differences between a healthy relationship and an abusive one.
Stay calm and deliver a direct message. Your fear for your kid’s safety or mental health may raise your interaction with them to what I call level red. I’ve heard my own voice rise in the effort to get my teen to recognize a risk. At the time, I’m thinking, How can I help them understand what could happen??!
And then, it comes out in a rush of too much information at once. I may even follow them from room to room, trying to get the message across. It’s not effective, it will make them anxious and your credibility factor will drop ten points. This I know.
Here’s a better way:
- Use stories or news accounts as a way to start a conversation about relationships – The resources at the end of this article are both fiction and nonfiction, and all can help you to connect you and your teen to the reality of teen dating violence.
- Organize your thoughts and direct the conversation at first, and then listen actively to your teen’s responses. Be ready for the most common reaction: “Why are you talking to me about this?”
- One possible approach: You could refer to one of the characters in the stories and talk about how you would feel if the situation happened to her or him. Then say, “No one has the right to hurt you. Not even once, not under any circumstances. If that happens, you need to tell me right away. Okay?”
- Your teen should understand this direct message the first time they hear it. And if you keep the discussion open, it will be the first of other conversations.
- Ask questions about their experiences and actively listen to their responses. You might ask a couple of these questions:
- Are any of your friends dating?
- Do you know anyone in an abusive dating relationship at school?
- Or, have you seen a relationship like that?
- Does anyone you know insult someone you care about in front of you?
- Have you ever heard about someone using texting or use social media to post something inappropriate about others or you?
- How would you feel if someone … ?
- What do you think you would do if you saw someone being abused?
- How would you feel if someone you were dating wanted to know where you were and who you were with all the time?
Unless you suspect your teen is in danger from an abuser, try to take these conversations slow at first. If you’ve pushed too hard like in my own level-red example above, they may withdraw from the conversation into those maddening one-word answers.
How can parents regulate our own emotions in order to keep the conversations flowing?
Try to use more “I” statements than “you” statements. In addition, some teens may try to deflect the conversation to another topic by pushing your buttons. According to Loveisrespect.org, here are steps you can take to keep the emotion from escalating:
- Stop – acknowledge your feelings. Pause the conversation long enough to regain calm
- Think. Figure out what it was about what they said that caused an angry reaction. Organize your thoughts in a way you can calmly explain how what was just said made you feel
- Talk. you can start with “When you say .. it makes me feel …” or Can you help me understand what you mean when you say … it makes me feel …”
- Listen. Give them the opportunity to express how they’re feeling. You’ll pick up clues on how the message is being received.
In researching and writing this article, I relied on the respected organizations listed below. To learn more, go to:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Resources to Help Start a Conversation
Video Game for Younger Teens
Honeymoon: a Serious Game for Adolescents – a Video game about healthy dating relationships.
Decisions that teens make affect the outcomes
Creator: Jennifer Ann Crecente Memorial
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
Sunshine – Don’t Confuse Love & Abuse
-by Day One
Production Year: 2018
2:45 min, YouTube
by Sarah Dessen
Want to Go Private?
Sarah Darer Littman
Amy Fellner Dominy
The Way I Used to Be
March 7, 2017
Cost: $6.59 DVD
National Dating Abuse Helpline
1-866-331-9474 or text 77054
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