If your teenager has reached the age where they are beginning to engage in romantic relationships with boyfriends or girlfriends, and go on dates unsupervised, then it is natural as a parent to be both excited by their development and worried for their emotional health. Building a foundation for healthy relationships with others is very important as your teenager ventures into more intimate relationships, and you want your teen to make good choices and stay safe and healthy.
Unfortunately, many teens are victims of dating violence. February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. While this month is an important time reserved to focus on eliminating teen dating violence through understanding and awareness, many teenagers suffer from dating violence all year round.
To best protect your teenager from being a victim of dating violence, you need to be informed, aware, and know what to look for so you can ensure your teen is forming healthy, safe relationships as they begin dating.
What is Teen Dating Violence?
According to the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, teen dating violence is defined as “a pattern of behavior that includes physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse used by one person in an intimate relationship to exert power and control over the other.”
Teen Dating Violence generally happens to teenagers ranging in age from 13 to 19 years old, and occurs regardless of factors such as race, gender, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation.
Statistics of Teen Dating Violence
According to a nationwide survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 23 percent of females, and 14 percent of males who had experienced rape or physical violence in a relationship, first experienced some type of intimate abuse between age 11 and 17.
Additionally, the Family & Youth Services Bureau reports that 1.5 million high school aged teenagers experience teen dating violence each year. This is much higher than other types of teen violence, as one in three adolescents experience some type of verbal, physical, or emotional abuse form their teen dating partners.
What to Look for to Protect Your Teenager from Dating Violence
Teenagers may often remain silent if they are being abused by a dating partner, and not share the information with friends or family due to embarrassment or fear. However, there are some warning signs that you can look for that might indicate your teen is experiencing dating violence:
• Loss of interest in school, failing grades, or dropping out of extracurricular activities they once enjoyed
• Anxiety or depression
• Avoiding eye contact and acting secretive
• Constantly thinking or talking about their dating partner
• Sudden crying spells or hysteria for no reason
• Bruises or scratches
• Changes in clothes or makeup
• Avoiding friends, or changing peer groups
• Changes in eating or sleeping habits
• Sudden use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs
• Loss of interest in family time
How to Help Your Teen if You Suspect Dating Violence
If you suspect that your teenager is the victim of Teen Dating Violence, then HealthyChildren.org recommends doing these things:
• Give your teenager the opportunity to talk and share openly, and listen quietly until they finish speaking.
• Let your teen know you are there to listen, love, support, and help them- not to judge or blame.
• Try not to speak negatively about the person they are dating, and communicate your concern for their well-being and safety.
• Caution your teen that abuse typically tends to escalate, and even small signs should not be ignored or they might transform into something far worse.
If your teenager refuses to speak to you about an abusive situation, then it is a good idea to seek out help from a professional teen counselor who specializes in helping teens who suffer from teen dating violence. They can help you speak to your teen, and help your son or daughter get out of a bad situation before it turns into something worse, or creates a pattern of unhealthy, abusive relationships into adulthood.