Teen Romantic Relationships: Preventing Dating Violence
For many people, February is labeled as the month of love because of Valentine’s Day. But it is also National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. It’s disappointing that we need such an observance, but one in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner! With these types of numbers, clearly we need to be more aware of the problem and educate our youth. Interestingly, in a recent survey, 81% of parents believed teen dating violence is not an issue or problem, but over 30% of teens are experiencing it. And, of those teens in a violent relationship, only 33% ever told anyone about the abuse – 67% hid it from everyone.
To address this important issue, this blog will cover:
– why prevention matters: the long-term effects of dating abuse
– what to tell teens they should be looking for in a romantic partner
– how to teach teens to set healthy boundaries in a relationship
Why Prevention Matters
Prevention of teen dating violence is absolutely essential for several reasons:
- Dating violence has very negative effects on the mental and physical health of youth, as well as on their school performance.
- Teens who suffer dating abuse are significantly more likely to develop alcoholism, eating disorders, sexual promiscuity, depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, and violent behavior.
- Many teens who suffer or commit dating abuse often lose confidence, feel isolated, and become anti-social.
- Youth who are victims of dating violence in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college.
- Teenagers in physically or psychologically aggressive dating relationships are more than twice as likely to repeat such damaging relationships as adults.
As teens develop emotionally, they are heavily influenced by experiences in their relationships. Clearly, abusive relationships can have significant negative effects on a developing teen.
Alternatively, research shows that healthy relationship behaviors can have a positive effect on a teen’s emotional development. Therefore, it is very important for adults to use methods to prevent dating violence in adolescents. Two ways that parents can help to prevent this type of abuse is by teaching their teens about healthy relationships: help them identify characteristics they should be looking for in a partner, and help them identify how to set up boundaries in their relationships.
What Teens Should Look for in a Partner
Many times, young people are attracted to another person based on their physical appearance, popularity, or sense of fun/humor. As a parent, you need to guide your teen to look deeper than these surface traits. Tell your teen that they deserve a healthy relationship, which is based on respect, trust and open communication. Suggest your teen look for a partner who has these characteristics:
- Treats you with respect.
- Is honest.
- Will compromise.
- Listens to your opinion and ideas.
- Supports you and your interests.
- Shares their thoughts and feelings.
- Is proud of your accomplishments and successes.
- Encourages you to do well in school or at work.
- Respects your boundaries (explained more in next section).
- Doesn’t make fun of things you like or want to do.
- Doesn’t get angry if you spend time with your friends or family.
- Doesn’t put you down or call you names.
- Doesn’t need to know where you are all the time.
- Doesn’t pressure you to do things that you don’t want to do.
- Doesn’t constantly accuse you of cheating or lying.
- Doesn’t threaten you or make you feel scared.
Remind your teen that both individuals in a relationship should have equal say and should never be afraid to express their feelings.
Setting Boundaries in a Relationship
Setting boundaries is an important part of any relationship, romantic or platonic, and it’s an important skill to have as an adult. Parents should inform their teens of these basic boundary-setting principles.
In healthy dating relationships, both partners should know each other’s wants, goals, fears and limits. Each person should be able to communicate their needs honestly without fearing their partner’s response. If one partner gets angry over your boundaries, ignores your limits, or calls your needs stupid, they are not showing you respect, and this is a red flag that they could eventually become an abuser.
You should take the time to discuss what some appropriate boundaries for your teen to establish in a dating relationship are. Offer your teen this guidance:
You should expect to be treated with respect in every relationship. This means that you expect your partner to never call you names, check up on you all the time, say negative things about you behind your back, frequently accuse you of something you are not doing, threaten you, hit you, or pressure you do to something you don’t want to do.
You should create a healthy balance of time together and apart. Both partners should feel free to hang out with friends or family without having to “get permission.” It’s also healthy to spend time by yourself doing things that you enjoy or that help you relax.
Thanks to today’s technology, your relationship extends online. Partners should discuss what online behavior feels comfortable to each other. For example, you might determine when it is ok to text each other or whether it’s ok to tag each other in social media posts, post your relationship status, or follow each other’s friends. No matter what, there are two digital boundaries that no one should ever cross:
- Passwords are Private. Sharing passwords for devices and accounts with anyone – even a partner you trust – is never a good idea. This type of access allows someone else to see everyone you have talked to and post anything they want under your name. Just to be safe, your passwords should be something that only you control.
- Sexting is Unacceptable. While it might seem like fun to “flirt” over text, once you hit send on a sexually explicit message or photo, you lose control over who sees it. Healthy relationships should establish a “no sexting” boundary. If your partner sexts you and demands that you sext back, you should be able to tell them you aren’t comfortable doing that, and they shouldn’t get angry or threaten you.
Partners should never use guilt or manipulation to force you to do something you don’t want to do. This is particularly true in physically intimate relationships. There is no rush to get physically intimate, and both partners should communicate their limits and take things at their own pace. In a healthy relationship, partners give and get consent before they engage in physically intimate acts. Many teenagers do not understand the meaning of consent, so here are some guidelines:
- What consent looks like:
- Communicate every step of the way. Ask if your partner is comfortable with doing something, rather than just assuming they feel the same way you do.
- Respect your partner’s “no.” Do not pressure, whine, or manipulate them to do something they don’t want to do.
- Consent is a clear and enthusiastic yes. If your partner seems unsure, stays silent, doesn’t respond, or says “maybe” then they are not saying “yes.”
- What consent does NOT look like:
- Your partner assumes you are consenting to something because you flirted, dressed sexy, accepted a drink, etc.
- Your partner accepts a “yes” or silence as consent while you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Your partner pressures or guilts you into doing things you do not want to do.
- Your partner makes you feel like you “owe” them — because you’re dating, or they gave you a gift, etc.
- Your partner gets angry if you say “no” to something.
- Your partner ignores your wishes.
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.
We have covered several topics about teen dating violence over the years. As part of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, we encourage you to review some of our previous blogs: