By Amanda Kippert
We teach our children from a young age to be kind to one another. Hitting is never OK, calling someone names isn’t kind and yelling at someone isn’t how we ask for things. These lessons shouldn’t end when kids leave the playground. Promoting respectful and nonviolent relationships as kids grow into teenagers and young adults is a vital step to preventing domestic abuse in adulthood.
But we acknowledge that talking to teens can be trickier than talking to toddlers. Sure, they sit still longer, but how can you get them to really absorb what you’re saying?
Let Teens Know the Risk of Abuse Is Real
According to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2019, 1 in 12 high school students reported being physically abused by a dating partner in the past year, and the same number reported sexual dating violence. LoveIsRespect.org, a youth abuse prevention and education project, reports a higher number for girls specifically—one in three young women will be victimized physically, sexually, emotionally or verbally by a dating partner in the U.S.
Even higher rates of physical and sexual dating violence were experienced by students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, or those who were unsure of their gender identity, compared to students who identified as cisgender and heterosexual. And less than 25 percent of those in the LGBTQIA+ community will ever report the abuse.
So even if an abusive partner never targets your own teen, it’s likely they’ll know someone else who experiences dating violence. Let your teen know that spotting the signs is important—it could help protect them as well as those they care about.
Teach Teens the Red and Green Flags Of Dating
Many teens get bombarded with warnings in adolescence—the red flags that denote unsafe people and the possible dangers that could follow. We tend to focus on the scary stuff first because it seems the most important, and that’s not exactly wrong. However, what many caring parents and educators forget is that knowing what a healthy partner looks like is just as important as knowing the signs of an abusive one.
When talking to teens about dating abuse, let them know that the biggest indicator of a safe or unsafe partner is going to be that little voice inside themselves. Do they feel safe and comfortable with their partner? Can they talk to their partner about their feelings? Does the relationship move at a pace that they’re OK with? If so, green flags.
Do they feel uneasy when they’re around a dating partner, do they worry about making their partner upset? Do they feel pressured to act in a way that’s not really themselves to keep that partner happy? If so, red flags. Here are some more to share:
Green Flags (Signs of a Likely Healthy Partner)
- Respects a “no” and doesn’t try to push you to do something you don’t want to do.
- Takes accountability when they make a mistake. (“That’s my fault, and I’m sorry.”)
- Values time apart and together.
- Accepts feedback without getting defensive.
- Does what they say they’ll do.
- Does not lie.
- Exhibits empathy and understanding toward you and others.
- Makes you feel safe and secure.
- Is OK with you having your own friends and spending time without them.
- Is able to disagree or argue without getting mean or using personal insults.
- Enjoys seeing you succeed and grow.
- Same person in public as in private.
Red Flags (Signs of a Possibly Abusive Partner)
- Pressures you to move fast in a relationship (may talk about “forever” or being “soulmates.”)
- Pressures you into sex before you’re ready or when you don’t want it.
- Shows extreme amounts of affection, mimics every interest you have or carries out over-the-top displays of romance right away, often called love-bombing.
- Has been abusive in other relationships.
- Believes in stereotypical gender roles and male supremacy.
- Doesn’t like you to have friendships outside of them or spend time with your family alone; is jealous and possessive.
- Encourages you not to have a job or complete education.
- Mostly displays anger or apathy (aloofness, silent treatment), and displays no other emotions.
- Puts you down, criticizes or degrades you. Deflates your self-esteem.
- Uses technology to stalk or harass you.
- Acts one way with you and a different way (often more friendly and polite) with others.
- Does not respect boundaries. This could look like coming over even when you say you’re staying in for the night. Or calling you at work even after you say you can’t take personal calls at your place of employment. Physically, it can look like forcing themselves on you sexually even if you haven’t said you’re ready.
- Monitors where you go, even tracking you.
- Uses physical intimidation or physical violence against you, others or pets.
It’s important to note that red flags can show up any time in a relationship. A partner may start out by checking all the green flag boxes, only to start morphing into a different partner six months later. This is still abuse. Abuse can start any time in a relationship but rarely does an abuser stop abusing. If anything, abuse most likely will escalate until it puts the survivor’s life at risk.
Encourage Your Teen to Talk to You About Dating Violence… and Mean It
There’s a quote from parenting author Catherine Wallace that always gets me as a parent: “Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”
When we ask our teens to open up to us, we have to make sure we’ve created a nonjudgmental space where they feel safe and heard, and that starts early. As they get into their teen years, listening means not reacting when they talk about things like dating relationships (“But you’re too young to be dating!”) or friend drama (“Don’t hang around with that person! They seem awful!”). Those kinds of statements could shut down the conversation pipeline indefinitely.
The most important thing a parent can say to a teen who discloses dating abuse or any other concern is simply, “I believe you.” Many teens are afraid adults won’t believe them regarding abuse because of their age and inexperience in dating, or that they’ll get in trouble.
It’s important to follow up “I believe you” with, “It’s not your fault.” Teens who are subjected to abuse may not realize right away that what’s happening is abuse and may blame themselves for putting up with it as long as they have or thinking they’ve played a part in it. They may feel guilt, shame or embarrassment in disclosing it. They may worry about the social implications of identifying the abuser.
In all cases, a caring adult in their life who can help them sort through these complex feelings can make all the difference in the world. Statistics show that only 33 percent of teens experiencing dating abuse ever disclosed it. Not talking about dating abuse can lead to serious risks of increased violence, substance abuse, eating disorders, teen pregnancy, STDs and thoughts of suicide.
Reach Out for Reinforcements
If your teen has questions about dating or dating abuse that you’re not sure how to answer, it’s OK to say so. “I’m not sure how to answer that, but let’s find out together” is a perfectly acceptable response and better than, “Uh, I don’t know. Don’t worry about it.”
Luckily, there are resources available for parents and caregivers.
- DomesticShelters.org contains hundreds of articles on dating and domestic violence, outlining abusive tactics as well as addressing safety planning and advice for staying safe after abuse. (Yes, you can get an order of protection if you’re under 18.) You can also find a shelter near you with a 24/7 hotline to reach out for support. A trained advocate can help you and your teen access resources like counseling.
- LoveIsRespect.org is a great source for teens and their parents/caregivers to find out information on dating violence and healthy relationships. They also have a hotline and chat feature that both teens or parents can utilize for live, one-on-one support.
- BreaktheCycle.org is a national resource for teens and caregivers on dating violence, including actionable steps to take a stand against violence and sexual assault.
- LGBT National Help Center offers free, confidential support to anyone in the LGBTQIA+ community or allies.
- YourLifeYourVoice.org can help teens navigate any number of difficult situations, from bullying to suicidal thoughts.
- StrongHearts Native Helpline offers culturally relevant services for Native American survivors.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month
In 2010, Congress declared February as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. It’s a great reminder for parents, caregivers and teachers to start this conversation. Love is Respect offers an action guide anyone can download to start taking steps to prevent dating violence. It may be something your teen’s school or youth group might want to get involved in.
At home, one way to start the discussion for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is through books or movies that talk about teen dating abuse. Here are 5 YA novels that discuss abuseand 10 movies that broach the subject (warning: some of these movies may not be appropriate for a younger audience. Use your best discretion.) There’s even a video game competition around creating games that discuss healthy and unhealthy relationships. Read, watch or play one of these together and then ask your teen questions like, “What did you think about that? How would you feel if a partner treated you that way? Have you ever known anyone who’s dated someone who was mean to them? Who besides me [a parent] could you go to talk to about this?”
You may also want to send this to the teen in your life, just in case: “Teens: How to Talk to Your Parents About Dating Abuse.”
Original Article: https://www.domesticshelters.org/articles/children-and-domestic-violence/teaching-teens-about-dating-violence