Dating Violence – Is Your Teen At Risk?
Image: Jan Fidler Kissing couple
Adolescence is an exciting and turbulent time for many of our teens. It is at this age that many of our children start dating. Many parents I meet are surprised that teen relationships are sometimes abusive. In a nationwide survey, 9.4 percent of high school students reported being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the 12 months prior to the survey. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey). About 1 in 5 women and nearly 1 in 7 men who ever experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey). We know that teen dating violence affects all races, religions, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.
As teens develop emotionally, they are strongly influenced by their relationship experiences. Healthy relationship behaviors can have a positive effect on a teen’s emotional development. Unhealthy, abusive or violent relationships can cause both short and long term negative effects to the developing teen. Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to do poorly in school, and report binge drinking, suicide attempts, and physical fighting. Victims may also carry unhealthy behaviors and violence into future relationships.
We know that domestic violence is a learned behavior. Adolescents are getting messages about what is and is not acceptable in a relationship from their friends, family, and the media on a daily basis. Unfortunately, many of these messages communicate that violence in a relationship is okay, and/or that violence is an acceptable way to express anger. Violence is never acceptable.
Is my child at risk?
Risks of having unhealthy relationships increase for teens who:
- Believe it’s okay to use threats or violence to get their way or to express frustration or anger.
- Use alcohol or drugs.
- Can’t manage anger or frustration.
- Hang out with violent peers.
- Have multiple sexual partners.
- Have a friend involved in dating violence.
- Are depressed or anxious.
- Have learning difficulties and other problems at school.
- Don’t have parental supervision and support.
- Witness violence at home or in the community.
- Have a history of aggressive behavior or bullying
As parents, we are constantly modeling behaviors for our children. The best way to prevent your child from ending up in an abusive relationship is to model healthy behavior for them. Rather than hide all conflict from your children, let them see you and your partner work through a conflict while managing uncomfortable emotions like anger and jealousy, and treating others with respect. Show your kids that a conflict does not automatically mean screaming and throwing things.
Make sure that you speak to your child about what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like. Talk to them about boundaries- what they are, how to set them, and what to do when someone violates a boundary. Teach them about the difference between being assertive and being aggressive and when such behaviors are acceptable.
Strive to maintain open communication with your teen. Make sure they know that if they are in a relationship they are unsure of, they can come to you. Avoid shaming your child- this is negative reinforcement and will likely cause your teen to keep things from you. You want to make sure that your child knows what is healthy and that they can come to you for help.
What To Look For
There are several signs that your child may be in an abusive relationship. This includes a partner who acts jealous and controlling (this could look like monitoring your child’s phone, telling them what clothes they can and cannot wear); your child is spending all their time with the partner and dropping friends and activities; your teen appears to be depressed or angry; your child has unexplained injuries.
Unfortunately, only 40% of victims seek help. Of those that do, 3% tell an authority figure, 6% tell a family member and 75% tell a friend. This tells us that a teen in this situation is far more likely to tell a friend than an adult. Teens often say they don’t want their parents to know because they feel ashamed (how could I have picked such a person?) or they fear judgment and/or punishment from their parents. What you can do is let your child know that their safety is your number one concern and that if they come to you for help you will provide it- without shame or punishment.