As a parent and mental health professional in today’s society, I believe it is important to be aware of the ever-evolving risks that may impact the well-being of our children. One such risk that can adversely impact the well-being of our children is teen dating violence.
Dating is often viewed as a rite of passage as our children get older. It’s an exciting milestone, but it’s important to be aware of the potential risks that are associated with teen dating so you can recognize the signs of any abuse and can help prepare your teen to do the same.
Dating violence is defined as a pattern of violent behavior that someone uses against their significant other. Dating violence doesn’t only happen in person; it can also happen electronically.
4 Types of Dating Violence
There are four types of behavior that are most common in dating violence: physical violence, sexual violence, psychological aggression, and stalking.
Common examples of the four types of dating violence are:
- Physical violence: hitting, kicking or using some other means to inflict physical injury.
- Sexual violence: sexual assault, unwanted sexual touching, unwanted sexting or posting unwanted sexual pictures on social media platforms.
- Psychological aggression: name calling or exerting control over another person.
- Stalking: repeated, unwanted attention or contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of a loved one.
Dating Violence Statistics
According to the Centers for Disease Control, teen dating violence is common and affects millions of teenagers in the United States yearly. The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey indicate the following:
- Around 1 in 11 female and 1 in 15 male high school students, report having experienced physical dating violence in the last year.
- Approximately 1 in 9 female and 1 in 36 male high school students report having experienced sexual dating violence.
- 26 percent of women and 15 percent of men were victims of sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime and first experienced these or other forms of violence by that partner before age 18.
Signs a Teen is Experiencing Teen Dating Violence
Here are some of the common warning signs that your teen may be dealing with dating violence:
- Increased symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Increased engagement in unhealthy and risky behaviors like using tobacco, drugs, and alcohol
- Increased antisocial behaviors like lying, theft, bullying, or hitting
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
- Suicidal attempts or engaging in other self-harming behaviors
- Engagement in behaviors that are associated with eating disorders
- Increased isolation from family and friends
- Unexplained bruises or injuries
- Other unusual or uncharacteristic behavior
How to Help Teens Recognize Dating Violence
There are several strategies that parents can use to introduce and educate their children about teen dating violence:
1. Talk with your children
It’s never too early to have conversations with your children about basic relationship etiquette, both for in person and online relationships. With the constant access to technology, teens are engaging in intimate partner relationships at earlier ages. Teaching your children about self-respect, self-love, self-confidence, and healthy relationship boundaries in their pre-adolescent years may prove paramount in establishing a healthy foundation to prevent their engagement in unhealthy relationships in the future.
2. Model healthy behaviors
Modeling healthy relationship behaviors, sharing with your children unhealthy relationship behaviors that you witnessed as teenager, and sharing lessons learned are also ways to teach your children about the aspects of healthy vs. unhealthy relationships.
3. Teach your children the warning signs
Educate your children so that they will be able to recognize an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Common warning signs that your teen can look for in their partner’s behavior include:
- Extreme displays of jealousy or insecurity
- Unexpected and extreme anger outbursts
- Pressuring a partner to engage in unwanted activities (sex, drugs, etc.)
- Controlling tendencies
- Trying to prevent their partner from socializing or hanging out with other people
- Tracking their partner’s whereabouts and invading their privacy
- Bullying and threatening physical harm to their partner or their partner’s loved ones
- Blaming their partner for their problems or displays of abusive behavior
4. Be available to your teenager
Affirm that if your teen finds themselves in an unhealthy relationship, they can always come to you. Reassure them that there is nothing for them to be ashamed of and that you are always there to offer non-judgmental support.
How to Get Support If You Need It
If you suspect that your teenager is engaging in an unhealthy relationship and is being subjected to teen dating violence, there are several courses of action you can take to solicit support:
- Contact a local mental health professional to gain access to individual and/or community support resources.
- Contact your local law enforcement agency immediately if your child feels that their life or physical well-being is in danger.
- Contact the National Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474 (or TTY 1-866-331-8454 for the hearing impaired).