Teen Dating Violence
Warning Signs and Prevention
Recent news stories of teen dating violence highlight a common problem which is on the rise in teen relationships across all communities. Teen dating violence is a pattern of physically, sexually, verbally, and/or emotionally abusive behaviors that one person uses to exercise power and control over another person in a dating relationship.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one out of every ten teenagers has experienced some form of dating violence, either in the form of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. However, according to Vladimir Albin Jr., a youth team coordinator for the Boston-based domestic violence advocacy support group Close To Home, the majority of teenage dating violence goes unreported or under-reported. "Because there are so many different kinds of abuse and because teenagers have less experience in romantic relationships," he says, "a victim may not realize a relationship is abusive or abnormal. " Adolescents are not always aware that what they're experiencing is teen dating violence.
Emily Rothman, a domestic violence researcher at the Boston University School of Public Health stresses that many parents are unaware of the dangers of teen dating violence and how they can help prevent it. "We learned years ago that the right time to start talking to kids is before they're in a relationship," she says. Parents should start teaching about healthy relationships starting in preschool. "Adults need to promote the idea that kids shouldn't be violent or controlling with anyone and that everyone deserves respect in any kind of relationship," she says. The ultimate goal is to stop dating violence before it starts. During the preteen and teen years, young people are learning skills they need to form positive relationships with others. This is an ideal time to promote healthy relationships and communication skills and prevent patterns of dating violence that can last into adulthood.*
Parents also need to make teens aware of warning signs in a relationship. These extend beyond obvious physical abuse such as slaps, pinches, pushes, punches and beatings. Insults and humiliating put-downs can also be a sign of abuse. Control and jealousy can become apparent in a teen relationship in the form of constant texting or phone calls to check up on a partner's whereabouts, or pressure to withdraw from other relationships with friends or loved ones. These are emotionally abusive behaviors, and can be just as damaging and just as restricting as physically abusive behaviors.
With such high incidence of dating violence among young people, it is possible that someone's teen or someone they know could be in an unhealthy relationship. While sudden changes in a teen's attitude or behavior could be a normal, natural part of development, they also may indicate an unhealthy relationship. To help keep teens safe, here are some important dating violence safety tips and facts for parents and teenagers from the Children's Hospital Boston's Center for Young Women's Health.
Parents: Here are possible warning signs that may indicate a teen is involved in an unhealthy dating relationship:
- Your teen seems anxious or obsessively preoccupied with the person she is dating.
- Your teen is experiencing any of the following: failing grades or dropping out of school activities; difficulty making decisions; sudden changes in mood or personality; depression; being unusually secretive.
- Your teen is avoiding spending time with friends.
- You notice unexplained bruises, scratches, or other injuries.
- Your teen has significant changes in eating or sleeping habits, is avoiding eye contact or family conversation.
Teens: Here are possible warning signs that may indicate an unhealthy dating relationship:
- Unwanted physical contact, in any form (such as hitting, shoving, pinching).
- A boyfriend/girlfriend is jealous or possessive-he or she gets angry when partner talks or hangs out with other friends, or people of the opposite sex.
- Boyfriend/girlfriend is controlling, bossy, makes all the decisions, doesn't ask for input.
- Tells partner what or what not to wear, who they can or can't talk to, where they can or can't go.
- Is violent with other people, gets in fights frequently, loses temper frequently.
- Pressures partner to do something sexual that partner doesn't want to do.
- Swears at partner, or uses mean, degrading language when talking to partner.
- Blames partner for his or her problems, or tells partner that it's their fault that they are violent.
- Insults or tries to embarrass partner in front of other people.
- Calls or texts to check up on partner all the time and always wants to know where partner is going and who partner is with.
Though media attention on this topic tends to focus on young, heterosexual women, dating violence is not specific to gender or sexual orientation. For information on dating violence from a young man's perspective, parents can visit the Center for Young Men's Health website to access information, tips and guidelines to determine the safety of a relationship and evaluate partner behaviors. For information on LGBTQ teen dating violence, visit Do Something.org. (see resources below)
Everyone has the right to feel safe and loved, without emotional anguish or the threat of violence. If a teen is concerned that they may be in an unhealthy relationship, ending that relationship in a safe way may take some planning. It is important for teens to speak with a trusted adult who can help them decide the next course of action. Parents should let their adolescents know that they love them and are available to help them make healthier, safer and better-informed decisions about their dating relationships.
For more information on unhealthy relationships and teen dating violence, please visit the following websites:
- Children's Hospital Young Men's Health
www.parentdish.com, 7/7/11, Teen's Murder Raises Awareness of Dating Violence, Tom Henderson
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Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts