Parents must be aware that there are rising numbers of cases of teen dating violence, and be alert to the warning signs. Parents, whether married or divorced, must work together to protect a teenage child from becoming a victim of these dangerous and potentially deadly behaviors. Teen dating violence can have a significant impact upon emotional and physical health.
Parents should focus on maintaining an open, safe line of communication so that teens are comfortable sharing information about what is going on in their lives. Young people can be extremely harsh on one another, engaging in unhealthy behaviors including teasing and name-calling, which can progress to more dangerous behaviors, including physical violence, stalking and various types of emotional abuse. A teenager does not have the experience to know what is or is not appropriate, and can fall into an abusive relationship more easily than an adult.
Maintaining Communication With Your Teen
A teenager can be difficult to deal with. Parents who are struggling with this issue can work to re-establish communication by using these tips:
- Communicate with respect.
- Be understanding when speaking with your child.
- No emotional outbursts – maintain a calm demeanor, no matter what.
- Listen carefully, and never make your child feel (by words or actions) that his or her ideas are stupid, irrelevant, unimportant, etc.
- Show interest in his or her activities, and participate when possible.
- Make your home an inviting place for his or her friends to visit.
Teen dating violence takes many forms. If your child has become withdrawn, introverted, or appears to be suffering from emotional anguish, it is crucial that you open a conversation about what is occurring before the situation escalates. Be alert to the following:
Shaming on Social Media
Pictures, comments and other postings that shame, belittle or humiliate your child have a long-term impact upon emotional health. Have access to your child’s social media sites so that you can monitor what is being said online, and what pictures are being posted. Some children have been the victim of an abuser who posts nude pictures in an effort to shame another and destroy his or her reputation.
Persistent calling, texting or harassment can be a sign of an unhealthy relationship. An attempt to control the actions of your child can be a precursor to more dangerous behaviors.
A dating partner who has exhibited explosive anger is a serious warning sign that abuse could occur.
If your teenager appears to be isolated from former friends, it can indicate that he or she is the victim of teen dating violence or abuse.
A dating partner who appears to be overly possessive and controlling may endanger your child if the situation escalates. What appears to be just “young love” may in fact be a sign that the dating partner has serious emotional problems that could impact the future health and safety of your child.
Domestic and Sexual Violence and Teens: The Statistics
Many teenagers do not tell their parents what is happening, and are in a state of fear about the situation. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) reports that 23% of females and 14% of males who were the victim of rape, physical violence or stalking first experienced some level of violence from a partner between the ages of 11 and 17.
A 2013 survey by the same agency revealed that 10% of high school students were victims of physical violence, and 10% were victims of sexual victimization in the 12 months prior to the survey.
Signs of Dating Violence
Your child may be acting out, and exhibiting the signs that he or she is a victim of teen dating violence. The CDC advises parents to be alert to the following behaviors, as these issues may be indications that your son or daughter is being victimized:
- Tobacco, alcohol and drug use
- Anti-social behaviors
- Suicidal thoughts
Types of Teen Dating Violence
There are many ways a young person can be controlled through abuse, both physically and emotionally. These include:
Acts of physical violence can include pinching, hitting, shoving, slapping, punching or kicking.
Psychological or Emotional Abuse
Name-calling, shaming, bullying, and actions undertaken to embarrass or damage the teen’s sense of self-worth.
Forcing a teenager to engage in a sexual act when he or she does not wish to, or cannot consent, including forcing the sexual act by threatening to spread damaging rumors or other harmful actions.
A teenager can live in fear when a victim of harassing or threatening tactics, such as constant phone calls, texts, and demands for information about where he or she is, with whom, etc.
Resources for Parents and Teenagers
There are a number of resources to educate teenagers and parents about teen dating violence, including teen chat lines where young people can get advice from their peers.
- CDC Violence Prevention, Dating Matters
- Love is Respect: National Dating Abuse Helpline
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center
- Text “loveis” at 22522
- North Carolina Student Domestic Violence Resource Center
Talk to Your Teen
Engage in conversations with your children about love and respect, and which behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable. Get more information by reading our blog, “Talk to Your Teen.” As parents, you can protect your teenager from becoming a victim to teen dating violence through educating him or her about healthy relationships and respect.