Teen Dating Violence
In our previous blog, we talked about the basics of teen dating: when teens should begin dating, how to talk to your teen about dating, and the rules for helping our children successfully navigate this developmental milestone. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, sometimes things can go wrong. In this blog, we will discuss teen dating violence.
What is dating violence?
The United States Department of Justice defines dating violence as: “the perpetration or threat of an act of violence by at least one member of an unmarried couple on the other member within the context of dating or courtship.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe it as physical, sexual, or psychological harm placed on one partner by the other in a dating relationship.
Physical violence is the intentional use of physical force, and includes choking, slapping, scratching, pushing, grabbing, biting, shaking, punching, burning, or use of a weapon.
Sexual violence is when one person has been forced to have sex or perform sexual acts or attempting to have sex or perform sexual acts with someone under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
Psychological violence is somewhat more challenging to define as there are no physical manifestations when emotional abuse occurs. Some types of emotional abuse include insulting, humiliating, swearing, terrorizing, uttering threats, controlling what the victim can or cannot do, destroying property, forcing isolation, or being extremely jealous or possessive to the point of negatively affecting the other person involved in the relationship.
How common is teen dating violence?
Most studies and statistics show that one in three teenagers have experienced an abusive dating relationship. Forty percent of teenage girls ages 14 to 17 say they know someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend. Dating violence crosses all economic, racial and social lines – even gender, though most victims are young women.
Warning Signs of Being Abused in a Dating Relationship
Teenagers generally do not tell people when they are involved in a violent relationship, so it is important for adults to be alert for signs that a teen may be involved in a relationship that is, or has the potential to become, abusive. The teen who is being abused may have some of these signs:
- Falling or failing grades;
- Truancy or dropping out of school;
- Increased instances of indecision, stops giving her own opinion;
- Changes in mood or personality;
- Use of drugs/alcohol, not just experimentation;
- Emotional outburst, not just mood swings;
- Gives up desire or interest in previous activities;
- Becomes isolated from friends and family, insist on “more privacy”;
- Shows physical signs of injury, such as cuts, bruises, etc.;
- Makes excuses and/or apologizes for the date’s behavior;
- Begins to put herself/himself down;
- Seems afraid of his/her boyfriend or girlfriend.
Finally, observe the boyfriend or girlfriend and note their behavior. Do they seem to try to control the individual’s behavior? Do they try to make all of the decisions? Do they act jealous and possessive? Do they criticize the individual? Have you ever seen them act abusive towards other people, animals or things?
Why Does Teen Dating Violence Occur?
Teen dating violence often is hidden because teenagers are inexperienced with dating relationships and have romanticized views of love. Teens also want to be independent from their parents and are under extraordinary peer pressure to have a dating relationship. Teen dating violence can be influenced by how teenagers look at themselves and others.
Young women don’t often recognize the earliest signs of potential abuse for a variety of reasons. They often feel that they are responsible for solving problems in their relationships or that they can “fix” their boyfriend’s problems. They hear adults talking about working through tough issues and they misunderstand compromise as giving in. Their boyfriend’s jealousy often feels romantic to a young lady in her first relationship. There is also a fear of rejection – the chance that the boy will break up with her if she protests his behavior.
Many young men have been brought up to believe that “masculinity” is physical aggressiveness. Some boys believe they have the right to “control” their female partners or that their girlfriend is a possession. Some feel that they may lose respect in their male peer groups if they are attentive and supportive toward their girlfriends.
Preventing Teen Dating Violence
As we mentioned in our earlier teen dating blog, parents should reinforce the values that concern dating and relationships by discussing them with their teenager and modeling them with their spouse or significant other. Teaching teens that values are important actually encourages them to look for dates with similar good values.
Teenagers can choose better relationships when they learn to identify the early warning signs of an abusive relationship and understand that they have choices, and believe they are valuable people who deserve to be treated with respect. Tell teens that they should pay attention to early warning signs that their date may eventually become abusive. Those signs are: extreme jealousy, controlling behavior, mood swings, alcohol and drug use, explosive anger, isolating from friends and family, the use of force during an argument, hypersensitivity, a tendency to blame others for his/her problems or feelings, verbal abuse, a history of abusing former partners, and threats of violence. Make it clear that any of these behaviors are not respectful and that they deserve better.
If you as a parent believe your teen might be in an abusive relationship, but aren’t sure, use open communication, but do not pressure your teen to end the relationship. You do not want this to become a power struggle between the two of you. Make it clear that you have seen warning signs and you are concerned. Ask your teen to brainstorm some helpful “just in case” strategies together. For example, you might try role playing what your child would do if a situation turns abusive or suggest your teen group date for awhile.
Even if you don’t think your child has ever or will be in an abusive relationship, it’s a good idea to help your teen develop a dating safety plan. Teens should consider double-dating or going out in a group the first few times they go out with a new person. Adolescents should absolutely know the exact plans for the evening and tell a parent those plans with an expected time home. Remind teens of their decreased ability to react under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Parents should also teach their children to trust their instincts. Remind your child that if a situation makes them feel uncomfortable, they should try to stay calm and think of a way to get out of the situation. Parents should make it clear that they will pick them up anywhere or anytime.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline in the U.S. is: 800-799-7233 (SAFE). Parents should keep this number in case they need it, but also tell your teens where to find it so that they can get help if they don’t feel comfortable talking to you yet. That way if a teen feels the need to ask some questions, they can do so anonymously and get the support they need.