Teen Dating Abuse and Violence – What Your Kids Need to Know
Don’t let the stigma of the “abuse or violence” word keep you from reading this article or thinking your kids are immune. The abuse can be subtle and it can happen to anyone.
Recently, my daughter who’s a teacher, attended a training class on the subject of teen dating violence and abuse.
She shared with me how she’d wished she’d had this information to help her navigate dating when she was a teen. After having a very meaningful, and somewhat difficult, conversation we decided to write an article together that could provide you with valuable information to help you navigate this necessary conversation with your kids.
Teen dating violence/abuse isn’t one of those things we want to think about.
The word violence can lead us to think, “Not my teen”, or “That only happens on the wrong side of town,” or “Violence is a word you use for date rape and when they stick a drug in your drink” or “Violence is when a boyfriend hits you or hazing is taken to an extreme.”
We might think our daughter’s boyfriend seems a little possessive or we don’t like the way our son’s girlfriend talks to him, but abuse? Violence? Come on, that seems a little dramatic to call it that.
Teen dating abuse is real, and even though our teens may not return back to us black and blue, scars of these relationships can follow them into adulthood.
As a mother, it was right under my nose and I didn’t see it happening to my daughter. In college, I was in a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship that finally got so bad that I stopped minimizing the behavior, saw it for the abuse it was, and got out.
Teen dating violence often looks different in real life than we might make it up to be in our minds.
Abuse and violence shows up in many forms. It’s important that we are able to recognize the signs and teach our kids to recognize the signs as well.
The statistics are eye-opening and sobering:
Roughly 1.5 million high school boys and girls in the U.S. admit to being intentionally hit or physically harmed in the last year by someone they are romantically involved with.
In the U.S., 25% of high school girls have been abused physically or sexually.
Here are common behaviors/situations to help you to recognize abuse for what it is and share these with your teen:
He or she has prevented you from using the computer or cell phone.
He or she has checked your phone or messages without permission.
He or she has been overly possessive and doesn’t want you hanging out with others.
He or she tells you what to do.
He or she has shown extreme jealousy or insecurity.
He or she has frequent mood swings and an explosive temper.
He or she repeatedly apologizes for bad behavior and promises to change but doesn’t.
He or she has accused you of things you didn’t do.
He or she has put you down, makes fun, calls you names, or humiliates or embarrasses you on purpose.
He or she has pinched, shoved, slapped, hit, or kicked you.
He or she has threatened you in a cell phone text message.
He or she uploaded or shared a humiliating or harassing picture of you online or through their cell.
Here’s what you can do as the parent to promote healthy relationships and prevent patterns of dating violence:
Teach your teen what healthy dating relationships look like.
Start this early and know that it’s never too late to have these conversations. Teens are trying to figure things out at this age and lack the skills or insight to recognize behavior that shouldn’t be tolerated.
A way to help them to become more aware is to share with them what a healthy dating relationship is and what it is not.
It’s important to also be aware of how you are modeling healthy relationships in your own life.
Teach your teen to pay attention to their gut.
Teens may want to minimize a dating partner’s behavior as not that big of a deal.
Teens can sometimes be flattered when a boyfriend or girlfriend gets jealous, not realizing that it can spiral out of control.
When a boyfriend or girlfriend makes fun or name calls, they may at first act like it’s funny. Teach your teen to pay attention when others say things that don’t feel good. Here are some helpful responses to teach your child if they’re ever in a bullying situation.
They may downplay their partners moodiness or temper, “They’re going through a difficult time”, or “They didn’t really mean that”, or, “They apologized and feel badly.”
When they are possessive they may say to themselves, “Wow, they want to be with me all the time. They must really be crazy about me.”
We need to teach our kids to hear that still small voice in their head as a red alert and gonging cymbal that something’s not right or at the very least needs to give them pause.
Call it what it is.
Ignore the stigma of the “abuse” word. If your teen is being put down by their partner or called names, it’s verbal abuse.
If someone they dated is trying to embarrass them on social media, it’s abuse.
Helping our children to understand the hard and fast reality of what abuse looks like helps us to stop it from continuing to happen in the present and future.
Encourage your teen to go on group dates or dates that are age appropriate.
Chances are your kid will throw a fit with this one.
A teenagers date should not look the same as an adult’s date. Their brains are not mature enough.
Get to know your teens boyfriend or girlfriend.
Have them around your family enough to familiarize yourself with them. If they aren’t willing to spend time with your family or under your roof hanging out, address this and nip it in the bud.
I’m not saying to inject yourself into every aspect of their relationship and third wheel on dates all the time, but having them spend ample time with you is a strong indicator of whether or not you want them dating your child.
Pay attention to your own gut instincts.
I didn’t listen to my gut when my daughter wanted to spend large amounts of time at her boyfriend’s house. I even talked to the boy’s mother who assured me she would always be home.
When I said no initially, my daughter got upset. I reasoned I was being overly protective and let her go.
I wished I’d stuck to my initial gut reaction.
If your gut is saying no, trust it. If your teen’s upset, let them be.
You get the final say.
Don’t be afraid to set dating boundaries. What I mean by dating boundaries is not necessarily for your teen. It’s for you.
As a parent every challenge I’m faced with becomes a struggle and battle until I’m clear about what I’m comfortable with saying yes to and what I want to say no to.
Get clear for yourself, as the parent, around your dating boundaries for your child. The younger they are when you do this the better.
It makes our job a lot easier when we know where we stand.
And, If your teen is involved in an abusive relationship, it’s your right as a parent to help him or her sever that tie.
Talk to your teen.
Encourage them to aim high in the partners they choose for themselves, and help them develop healthy dating practices early.
My daughter has observed in the classroom that the teen dating culture seems to have an increased normalization of these kinds of dysfunctional relationship dynamics.
I realise this is a heavy topic, but it’s an important one to speak on.
Our children’s early dating relationships create a blueprint for how they date as adults.
I encourage you to involve yourself in your tween or teens dating relationships and share with your kids the signs of abusive boyfriends and girlfriends.
Model and talk to them about what healthy relationships are and build them up.
You can never do enough communicating in this regard.