Parents Must Talk to Teens to Prevent Teen Dating Violence
February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Studies show that 1 in 3 American teenagers have experienced an abusive dating relationship and 1 in 10 teenagers suffers physical violence at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend. A nationwide survey from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 23% of females and 14% of males who ever experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age.
According to the CDC, dating violence can have a negative effect on health throughout life. Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. They might also engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as using tobacco, drugs, and alcohol, or exhibit antisocial behaviors and think about suicide. Teens who are victims in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college.
When teens hear “dating abuse,” they may think the term is limited to severe violence, such as rape or beatings. It’s up to the adults in their lives to let them know that dating abuse includes insults or put-downs in social media, in front of friends, or in private; verbal or written threats of violence or of sharing private information; monitoring the victim’s actions (using texts to find out where they are or requiring they share their account passwords); and isolating the victim from their friends or family. Dating abuse is really a pattern of behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner. When partners do not set boundaries in the relationship, unhealthy behaviors can worsen and may lead to more severe, abusive behaviors.
Teens receive messages about how to behave in relationships from the media and from the peers and adults in their lives, and many times those messages suggest that abusive control in a relationship is acceptable. Teens often think some behaviors, like name calling, are a “normal” part of a relationship. Unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime. That is why it’s critical that adults talk to youth about how to recognize abuse, establish boundaries, and build healthy relationships.
Healthy Relationship Skills
Throughout a child’s life, adults should talk about and model healthy relationship skills, which are:
- Respect: showing consideration for the feelings, individuality, boundaries, and well being of the other person.
- Communication: creating a safe environment for others to share their honest feelings and have equal say in the relationship, without fear of negative consequences.
- Anger Management: dealing with uncomfortable emotions in positive, non-violent ways. You can learn more in our previous blog, Anger Management for Teens.
- Problem Solving: knowing how to break problems down, find possible solutions, and consider the likely outcomes for each solution.
- Negotiation and Compromise: turning problems into “win-win” situations in which each partner gets some of what he or she wants.
- Assertiveness: asking for what one wants clearly and respectfully, without threats, intimidation, or physical force. This means standing up for one’s own rights (including learning how to say ‘no’ when something doesn’t feel right) without treading on the rights of others. You can learn more in our previous blog, 5 Ways Parents Can Teach Assertiveness to Teens.
Unhealthy Relationship Warning Signs
Most young people realize that certain behaviors from a friend or partner make them feel bad or angry, but they may not know when the behavior has become unhealthy. Giving examples of what the behaviors may look like in real life will help young people identify them in their own situations.
Adults should point out that a partner should NOT:
- be resentful of their accomplishments,
- make them feel guilty for how they spend their time,
- be condescending of their opinions,
- be unsupportive of their choices,
- be excessively jealous, or
- make them feel stupid for a decision they made.
Are you feeling overwhelmed thinking about how to bring all of this up without getting the typical irritated teen response? Teens are best drawn into conversation when parents ask questions about their opinions instead of being lectured. Here are some possible conversation starters:
- What does dating mean to you? Does anyone you know date?
- What are some things that you like about your friends?
- What are some things you don’t like about how your friends act or how they treat you?
- Choose one couple you know of who you think has a good relationship and one couple who you think has an unhealthy relationship. Why did you pick these couples?
- Do you think there is a good way to argue? Do you think there are unfair ways to argue? Have you ever argued unfairly?
- What does it mean to stand up for yourself? When you stand up for yourself, how does it make you feel?
By taking the time to talk to your teen about this difficult topic, you are setting your child up to establish healthy relationships in their future.