Times have changed since today’s parents were teenagers and the rules about almost everything seem to be different. Parents who used to spend hours hanging out with their friends at the arcade or the mall now wonder if their child is well-adjusted and socially engaged because they don’t seem to hang out with their friends much at all. What many parents don’t realize is that the way teenagers interact and engage with each other is completely different from their own experience. Teens used to need to be separate from their parents physically in order to interact with other teens without parental awareness or involvement. But now, all they need is an internet connection and a smart phone and they can get that separation without ever having to leave the living room.
These differences cross all the different types of relationships teenagers engage in, including dating. Where parents “went out” with each other, figuratively and literally, today’s teens may never go “out” on what their parents would recognize as a date. So much has changed in the span of a generation that it can be difficult for parents to understand their teen’s relationships or even recognize when they are involved in one. Even though technology affords teenagers the ability to interact with one another without leaving their own family’s living room, they may still meet up with each other outside of their home and possibly get involved in behavior that could be dangerous, even though it wouldn’t be recognized as a typical dating scenario. Unfortunately, there is one thing about teen relationships that hasn’t really changed in the face of technology, the possibility that a teenager’s relationship will become abusive.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 9% of teenagers report that they have experienced some form of physical abuse in the past 12 months. If you factor in other forms of partner abuse including emotional, sexual, and psychological, 1 in 4 teens report some form of dating violence each year. The long term consequences of dating violence amongst teens are significant. Teenagers who experience or witness dating violence can find it difficult to excel academically and may be more likely to skip school or drop out. Victims of this kind of abuse are more likely to smoke, use illicit or illegal drugs, struggle with eating disorders, and consider suicide. The pregnancy rate amongst teen girls who have been victims of dating violence is 3 times higher than their peers.
What Parents Can Do
One of the most important things parents can do is to talk to their teenagers about dating violence. Teaching teens what is and is not a healthy relationship helps them see when a boyfriend or girlfriend’s behavior crosses the line. Teach teens these warning signs that their relationship is becoming or has become abusive:
- Being called names
- Being embarrassed, put down, or degraded in front of others
- Possessiveness including non-stop texting and calling, demanding to know whereabouts and who they are with
- Controlling behavior
- Any physical violence
- Pressure to have sex or forced sex
Additionally, parents need to know which warning signs to watch for so that they will know if their teen is in trouble but unable or unwilling to report it. Parents need to be alert for:
- Rapid drops in grades
- Changes in mood or personality
- Struggling to make decisions
- Hesitant to offer their opinion, even when asked
- Signs of physical abuse
- Negative attitude and talk towards themselves
If your child is being abused, contact the police department immediately.