Dating Abuse: What You and Your Teen Should Know
Know the facts, statistics, and warning signs
Most of us are aware that domestic violence is a widespread, pressing issue. Teens suffer from violence at the hands of dating partners—in even higher percentages than adults. Teens are especially susceptible to dating abuse because they’re experiencing love for the first time. For teens, relationships can be so new and overwhelming that it’s hard to know what behavior is OK and what's not. That is precisely why you, as a parent, can be a huge help.
Here’s what you need to know to keep your teen safe:
What is dating abuse?
Dating abuse is a pattern of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse, used to exert power and control over a dating partner. It’s important to note that abuse is not always physical. Emotional abuse—insults, humiliation, jealousy, and controlling behavior—can be just as dangerous and devastating.
How common is dating abuse?
- One in three teens in the U.S. has experienced abuse from a dating partner—either physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal.
- 43% of women who date in college say they’ve experienced violent or abusive dating behaviors.
- Women ages 16 to 24 are victims of violence from a partner at a rate that’s nearly three times the national average.
- Of youths who’ve experienced both violence and rape in dating relationships, half try to commit suicide.
- Only one-third of teenagers who faced relationship violence told someone.
What warning signs can Solo Moms watch for?
- Your child’s partner is extremely jealous or possessive.
- You observe unexplained marks or bruises.
- Your child’s partner texts or emails excessively.
- Your child begins to dress differently.
- You notice that your child is depressed or anxious.
- Your child stops participating in extracurricular activities or other interests.
- Your child stops spending time with other friends and family.
- You notice that your child’s partner abuses other people.
What can you do to help?
- If your child reaches out to you, take the concerns seriously. Be sure not to minimize the situation because they’re young, inexperienced, or in a new relationship.
- Let them know you’re concerned for their safety. Offer to connect your child with a professional who can help and who’ll keep things confidential.
- Be supportive and understanding and reserve judgment. Stress that you’re on their side and you don’t blame them.
- If they decide to end the relationship, help them develop a safety plan, with the aid of support groups or professionals. This is one of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship.
- Remember that while you can provide support, it’s up to your child to make the choice to leave the relationship. Let them know that you respect their choices
How do you talk to your child about healthy relationships?
- Keep lines of communication open. Abuse thrives in secrecy, so the most important step in keeping kids safe is to encourage open discussion. Ask questions and be sure to listen. Avoid interrupting, analyzing, lecturing, or accusing. Be nonjudgmental, and supportive so they feel comfortable being honest with you.
- Keep it low-key. If your child is not ready to talk, try again another time.
- Admit to not knowing the answer to a particular question. This response builds trust.
- Emphasize that dating should be fun, and that violence is never OK.
- Talk about what your child can do if they witness dating abuse or experience it themselves.
- Remind your child they can always say no to anything they’re not comfortable with—and that they should respect this right in others.
For tons more info, visit Love Is Respect.
Image via Shutterstock.com
Nicole C. Kear, is the author of Now I See You: A Memoir, recently published by St. Martin’s Press. Kear, who lives in New York City, is also an editor, speaker, and mother of three.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.