As students head back to school, teens focus on academics, sports, extracurricular activities, and relationships. Dating is an important rite of adolescence in which teens grow towards adult relationships. Although dating should be a fun and exciting part of the teen years, statistics show that one in three teenagers have experienced violence in a dating relationship. In dating violence, one partner tries to maintain power and control over the other through abuse. This abuse takes many forms – physical, emotional/psychological, sexual, jealousy and isolation, and stalking. Dating violence crosses all racial, economic, and social lines. Although victims can be male or female, most are young women, who are also at greater risk for serious injury. Often, teen dating violence is hidden from adults and friends because teens are inexperienced with dating relationships, have romantic views of love, want independence from their parents, and are pressured by peers to act violently.
So, what is love? How can a teen (or adult) know if his/her relationship is healthy?
· Love is freedom – it’s not about possessing anyone or anything.
· Love is accepting – it isn’t telling someone what to do, what to wear, or how to act.
· Love is secure – it isn’t being jealous, suspicious, or paranoid.
· Love is trusting – it isn’t keeping tabs with obsessive calls and texting.
· Love is respect – it isn’t ignoring your personal boundaries or dismissing your feelings or opinions.
· Love is safe – it should never involve fear of your partner.
Sometimes, it can be hard to tell when a relationship crosses the line from healthy to unhealthy or even abusive. Teens can use these warning signs of abuse to see if their relationships are going in the wrong direction:
· Checking your cell phone or email without permission
· Constantly putting you down
· Extreme jealousy or insecurity
· Isolating you from family or friends
· Making false accusations
· Physically hurting you in any way
Parents can prepare their teens for healthy relationships by discussing respectful relationships, healthy boundaries, and safety with their sons and daughters before they begin dating. However, parents understand that as their children strive for greater independence, they are often the last to know what is going on their teens’ lives. Here are some warning signs that your teen might be in an abusive relationship:
§ Your teen’s partner is extremely jealous or possessive.
§ You notice unexplained marks or bruises.
§ Your teen’s partner emails or texts excessively.
§ You notice that your son or daughter is depressed or anxious.
§ Your son or daughter stops participating in extracurricular activities or other interests.
§ Your teen stops spending time with other friends and family.
§ Your teen’s partner abuses other people or animals.
§ Your teen begins to dress differently.
For parents, knowing that your son or daughter is in an unhealthy relationship can be both frustrating and frightening. Teens in abusive relationships are scared and confused. As a parent, you are critical in helping your child develop healthy relationships and can provide life-saving support if he or she is in an abusive relationship. Here are ways you can help your teen:
- Tell your teen you’re concerned for his/her safety. Point out that what's happening isn't "normal." Everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship. Offer to connect your son or daughter with a domestic violence program or a counselor, who they can talk to confidentially. If the abusive partner is using stalking behavior, an order of protection and safety plan with your teen’s school may be necessary.
- Be supportive and understanding. Stress that you’re on their side. Provide information and non-judgmental support. Let your son or daughter know that it’s not his or her fault and no one "deserves" to be abused. Make it clear that you don’t blame them and you respect their choices.
- Believe them and take them seriously. Your child may be reluctant to share their experiences in fear of no one believing what they say. As you validate their feelings and show your support, they can become more comfortable and trust you with more information. Be careful not to minimize your child’s situation due to age, inexperience or the length of their relationship.
- Help develop a safety plan. One of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship is when the victim decides to leave. Be especially supportive during this time and try to connect your child to support groups or professionals that can help keep them safe.
- Remember that ultimately your child must be the one who decides to leave the relationship. There are many complex reasons why victims stay in unhealthy relationships.
Help is available! Often, teen dating violence becomes a bigger problem than the teen or family can handle by themselves. Dove provides teen dating violence prevention education to schools and youth-serving organizations, individual counseling and family support for victims of teen dating violence, assistance with orders of protection, and advocacy with schools, law enforcement, medical, and mental health providers on behalf of teen dating violence victims. To schedule an appointment or arrange for a presentation, contact Dove at 217-428-6616 or the Dove Domestic Violence Hotline at 217-423-2238.