Maybe it started with a derogatory name. Then it escalated into a shouting match. Perhaps a shove, then a slap, a punch, or worse. Intimate partner violence tends to have warning signs, cycles, and painful consequences for all involved. The emotional toll can be debilitating. The physical results can be deadly.
This type of behavior when it occurs in any relationship is damaging and harmful, but when it occurs within the teen population it becomes even more alarming. According to the CDC, “teen dating violence is defined as the physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional violence within a dating relationship, as well as stalking. It can occur in person or electronically and may occur between a current or former dating partner.”*
Teens are especially vulnerable as violence, name-calling, and other unhealthy ways of relating can become trivialized and normalized if not addressed, leading to a potential lifetime of experiencing less than ideal romantic relationships.
Do you suspect that your teen might be involved in a violent relationship? Are you unsure about how to approach the subject? Here are some basic truths about teen dating violence that you should know.
Dating violence can happen to your teen.
“That will never happen to my kid.” Have you ever said those words out loud or thought them to yourself as you witness another family’s tragedy from afar? The alarming truth is that one in three teens experiences dating violence. Some teens experience dating violence as early as 11 years old!**
Teen dating violence is not exclusive to girls.
A common misconception about abuse is that it is one-sided. Know that both girls and boys are susceptible to abuse. Often boys are afraid to admit to abuse out of fear that it violates codes of masculinity. Know that our sons need love, support, and a safe space to break free from vicious cycles of abuse too.
Dating isn’t what it used to be; you’ll need to keep up.
Long gone are the days of “traditional” dating. Today, teens interact digitally as much as they do in person. Don’t discredit the validity of your teen’s relationships simply because they exist online. Cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking are just a few ways that violence and abuse can occur. Monitor your child’s social networking activity, and not just on the home PC, but on whatever smart devices they might use. Most parents are familiar with Facebook and Twitter, but many teens tend toward use of newer social media and messaging apps like Kik, WhatsApp, Pheed, and Snapchat.
The warning signs will be there.
Trust your instincts. If you feel like something is not right with your teen explore that feeling. If you notice your teen is not quite him or herself, has withdrawn from family members and friends, has unexplained bruises or marks or his or her body, or reacts strangely when around the person they are dating, take note and then take appropriate action.
Sometimes as parent’s we fall into the “friend” trap. We think the way in to our teen’s inner circle is by maintaining a friendly relationship instead of a parental one. This is not true. It’s okay to ask questions and expect honest and open answers. But remember to be sensitive to what your teen is going through. Emphasize to your teen that you are on his or her side. Seek professional counseling when you need additional support.
You’ll need to help your teen through it, whether they are on the giving our receiving end of the abuse.
You are your teen’s best resource and advocate, and you’ll need to see your child through this difficult time. Often attentions are focused on the abused party, but we cannot forget the abuser. Hurt people, hurt people. Help your teen to be accountable for his or her actions and seek appropriate support. Let your teen know that the road toward changing violent behaviors can be a long and difficult one, but that you are there to offer support through it all.
There are resources available to help you.
It helps to know that there are many resources highlighting statistics, warning signs and how to seek help. Here are a select few:
Break the Cycle
(This website lists warning signs, offers tools for action, and gives phone, chat, and text options for help.)
Love is Respect
(Take relationship quizzes, learn dating basics, get help, and take action at this website.)
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
If you are an adult who works with teens and you want to learn more about teen dating violence, the CDC offers a free, online training course:
Dating Matters: Understanding Teen Violence Dating Prevention http://vetoviolence.cdc.gov/datingmatters/
The Stone Foundation is a community of counseling professionals who are committed to helping you live your best life. If we can help you and your teen emerge on the other side of teen violence, please contact us at 410.296.2004 or visit www.thestonefoundation.com. Please know that this article deals with a very serious matter and is intended for general, educational purposes only. This article, and others like it, should not and are not meant to take the place of professional counseling services or medical care.
Leslie J. Sherrod, MSW, LGSW, is an outreach social worker at a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. She also has experience providing psychotherapy to children, teens, adults, and families. She is the author of several inspirational novels, including Without Faith, Losing Hope, Secret Place, and Like Sheep Gone Astray. Visit her website www.LeslieJSherrod.com to learn more about Leslie. Find her on social media:Facebook: Leslie J. Sherrod; Twitter: @lesliejsherrod