Teen Dating: The Reality of Unhealthy Relationships
Abusive relationships come in many forms, and all of it devastating. There are many symptoms of abusive relationships, and many warning signs of abuse. Parents and teenagers tell their personal stories about confronting unhealthy relationships and recovering from abuse.
Parent 1 | Anonymous
Helpless, scared and desperate: these are the emotions I experienced while our family dealt with the devastating effects of dating violence. Our nightmare began when I received a call late one evening from the school athletic director. My daughter had been injured; her boyfriend of nine months was to blame.
As I tried to digest this news, I began to think about the concerning behaviors that I had recently noticed. Before she began dating her boyfriend, she was a straight A student and captain of the cheerleading squad. She had many friends and an active social life. However, when she began dating her new boyfriend, she started to withdraw from friends and had extreme mood swings. I was concerned, but she just kept saying she was stressed from all of her responsibilities. I spoke with friends and even our pastor about my concerns, but we all decided that she was just dealing with typical teenage challenges. None of us could have imagined that she was being abused on a daily basis for almost six months.
My Daughter Was Ashamed to Talk About the Abuse
After learning of the abuse, I tried to talk to my daughter, but she was ashamed and embarrassed. The next day, she finally felt comfortable taking off her oversized sweatshirt and showing me the bruises and scratches that covered her entire back. I was overcome with emotion, and heartbroken that she had been dealing with this pain alone. We went to the hospital, and we reported the incident to the police. I remember feeling so relieved that he could never hurt her again.
But, this ordeal was far from over. Her abuser was arrested and then immediately released. We were denied a restraining order because they were both minors. After desperately reaching out to our State Senator and Representative, we finally secured a protective order that prohibited the boy from contacting her. He ignored that and immediately began calling, tearfully apologizing like he had so many times before. Shockingly, my daughter wanted to give him another chance. I was outraged and forbid her to see him again. He kept calling our home and threatened to hurt me if we pressed charges against him. He even tried to break into our home to get my daughter to leave with him.
At this point, my mother protection mode was in high gear. I had a new security system installed, I removed all the phones from our home, keeping only my cell phone for emergencies, and I slept outside her bedroom door for months, fearing that she would try to run away with him. She was behaving so irrationally, telling me that she intended to be with him no matter what. I was terrified and my life felt out of control; I felt helpless.
One night, as I sat on the floor, crying outside her room, I realized that this once strong and independent child of mine, who was now begging me to let her be with her abuser, needed more help than I could provide. So, we sought professional counseling. Over time, my daughter’s wounds and those inflicted on our entire family are healing. The impact is long-lasting and the scars are deep. As for her abuser, he was finally arrested for harassing our family and violating the protective order. He was detained and served almost one year in the juvenile detention system.
Dating violence depletes self-esteem, destroys self-worth and divides families. It can end lives. During our ordeal, we spoke to several mothers whose daughters were murdered by their boyfriends. So, I know how blessed we are to have a second chance. That’s why we have to do everything we can to focus on prevention so that no other family has to experience what we did.
Parent 2 | Monica Boone
September 29, 1985, was a very important day for my family. My niece, Danielle Marie Boone, was born. Being the first grandchild, first niece and the first child of my sister, she was guaranteed to be pampered, spoiled and adored. When I held this new life in my arms for the first time, I was surrounded by a feeling of complete and total joy. My heartbeat slowed, and I could feel its life-supporting rhythm corresponding with this new soul I held in my arms. This tiny person, this child of delight and gift from God was the first great love of my life. I knew the true meaning of the term soul mate.
May 6, 2005, was a very important day for my family. My niece, Danielle Marie Boone, died. She was shot by her boyfriend on Mother’s Day and did not survive. Danielle was just 19 years old and a new mother of a three-week-old baby girl.
My family had always been close; we were very communicative and steeped in traditions. Every Mother’s Day, we had a picnic and played kickball, rain or shine. That last day I spoke to her, I was very happy: sure in the knowledge that she was coming home to us and leaving that man. He was the boy you always fear your baby girl would meet: the handsome bad boy who cared more about his REP than the family he started. I said, “See you Sunday, Sweetie,” and she replied, “Goodbye Auntie; love you.”
We Encourage My Niece to Leave, But She Couldn’t
Danielle never got the chance to come home. For months we encouraged her to leave him and abandon what we perceived as a non-supportive environment, which in reality was a verbally and physically abusive relationship. She was caught within the grasp of domestic violence, and we felt powerless to help her. Where do we go? Who do we ask for answers? What do we do? The questions kept piling up. We were naive and did not know the warning signs of domestic violence.
She had become a different person: secretive and defensive. More and more, she pulled away from us. We found it difficult to understand what made her stay in this toxic relationship. Why couldn’t she just leave him? Once, I noticed a bruise on her arm, and she just laughed it off and blamed it on something else. When I asked her directly if he ever hit her, she said, “No, Auntie he’s not like that.” It never occurred to us, and I believe, to her, that she might not survive. That was unimaginable.
I wanted so much to believe her. My family had endless discussions on how to handle the situation. Should we confront her should we confront him? We just felt flooded and overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. Our emotions were further weighted down by Danielle’s age: 19 and legally an adult. Our options were limited, and the confusion we felt put us in a waiting game.
We waited for her to see reason, waited for her to leave him, waited for her to listen to our pleas, waited for Danielle to come home. Now the wait is over and Danielle is dead.
At the funeral, my mother kept reciting, “There has to be a way to save just one girl.” So, my family started IMAGINE Institute, a non-profit organization promoting awareness about teen domestic violence. Every day we put our energy into spreading the word that domestic violence can be prevented through education and counseling. Saving just one girl, over and over again, in memory of Danielle.
For more information about IMAGINE Institute, call 216-556-0059.
Parent 3 | Christine Spring
My daughter and I have always been close. We shared everything: our thoughts, joys, laughter, fears and needs. Or so I thought.
During her sophomore year, my daughter met a young man in her school. John* seemed like a nice kid; he played sports, seemed to have a supportive family and was respectful of my husband and me. But as the relationship continued, things started to change. He shared that his home-life was difficult with lots of fighting and that his football teammates picked on him. He felt misunderstood and unloved. The more he told us, the more we tried to compensate. And then, we began to make excuses for his behavior.
John would get angry and have outbursts in front of us. He would get this rage look in his eyes and say mean and hurtful things. We tried to overlook the meanness and make excuses for John because of all the bad things he said that happened to him at home.
During this time, my daughter was physically and verbally abused, and she became isolated from her friends. We noticed random bruises, but she said they were from wrestling and having fun with John. We were suspicious, so we sat her down and asked her point blank if John was hitting her or hurting her. She said no. We encouraged her to hang out with her friends, but she said that John wouldn’t like it. Things escalated, and John would go through her phone and interrogate me about where she was. We began to realize that he was out of control.
My Daughter Ended the Relationship, But that Wasn’t the End
The relationship came to a head during Homecoming. John, moody and angry, behaved badly during pictures. They returned early with Miranda crying and in pain. John had pushed her down, and she broke her tailbone. Eventually, she broke off the relationship with John, but the nightmare has not ended.
John continued to terrorize my daughter: stalking and harassing her. He broke our car windows. Despite his violence, we were not able to find help. The school was useless, and law enforcement did not help. Thankfully, we found Homesafe, a facility in our hometown that deals with domestic violence. They offer counseling, legal advice & advocacy, and a safe place for victims of violence including help for teens in violent relationships.
Out of our crisis, we have learned important lessons: the importance of family – we will always protect each other; the importance of honest communication; the importance of self-worth – no one can tell you that you are not worthwhile. And because we can identify the symptoms of an abusive relationship, we have counseled friends about their relationships.
Although this has been a difficult road, my daughter and I are closer than ever.
*Name was changed
Teen 1 | Danielle Herzberger
Everyone wants to know whether a relationship is healthy or unhealthy. I had a relationship that was neither healthy nor unhealthy. Mine was somewhere in between. I naively thought that we were living a happy medium for the majority of the time.
I look back to the first little signs of him treating me terribly; they seemed so obvious to everyone but me. If I spent any time with other boys, he wouldn’t speak to me for weeks. We weren’t even dating but he acted like I was his property. I didn’t mind taking the bus to see him, but he would get so angry when I asked more than once which bus I should take. Oftentimes, we would go somewhere new, but if I ever went back to the same place with anyone else, he would make me feel like I betrayed him. Still, I just chose to see all of the loveliness instead of the bad stuff.
I told him that I didn’t want to be anything more than friends. Soon after, he ended up with a new girlfriend. It seemed like a silly relationship; he would even come to me to discuss their problems. The whole goal was to make me jealous.
After awhile, we began dating. I loved him, and he seemed to love me. Even though I gave him all I could, our relationship just got worse. I called him one night about my terribly awful day; he said, “Maybe that’s karma for kissing and flirting with those boys.” What boys? I didn’t even know what he was talking about.
I Saw Some Warning Signs But I Stayed Too Long
Our worst fight happened in the middle of a snowstorm. We were sitting in the upstairs of my house; he shared a few secrets, so I decided to share a few of mine. He blew me off and continued with his stories because, of course, they were much more important than mine. I asked if I could get a few words in, but instead of letting me share my story, he just said, “What’s all the attitude about? If you would just grow up, I would be happy to listen to you.” I thought that he wanted to know me; instead, he just wanted me to know him.
He ran out the door before I could even throw on my coat and started walking home. My mother asked what happened, and once I told her, she offered to drive him. By the time we caught up with him, he was halfway home. I got out of the car to talk to him, and he said, “I’m done with you forever. You’re so 16 and don’t know what anything is like. You’re a spoiled little copy of every other girl.” He told me the only reason he ever wanted to be with me was because he thought I was completely something else, like I was so indie hippy and different. He refused the car ride and told me to call him if I ever get off the rag and act my age.
I spent weeks completely and utterly torn. Then one day, he brought me flowers, and I let him back in. Over time, we fell back into a dreadful little pattern. After a year of being emotionally unstable, I finally let him go for good. I realized that although he genuinely cared for me, he just wanted me all for his own: a pretty little bird for him to lock up in a cage.
Teen 2 | Anonymous
When I first met Alex, I knew we had a connection. He understood me, more than my friends and family ever could, so I told him everything about me. There were no secrets between us, and I thought that this honesty made our relationship stronger than any of my friendships. He knew exactly what to say and exactly when to say it, and before I knew it, I was falling fast.
Slowly, I stopped talking as much to my friends and family so that I could talk to him more. I’d decline invitations from girlfriends so I could wait for a call I’d get an hour late. I did my homework while Facebooking him and spent my free time trying to find ways to spend time together. I became addicted to his attention, in constant need of it. And once I reached this point, my knight in shining armor began removing his gleaming helmet.
His Criticism and Abuse Took Away Sense of Self
It started off as an occasional argument, usually over something small like my outfit. If I had on a brand name T-shirt, he’d tell me I was becoming one of the cliché girls whom he didn’t like. Then, we began arguing every few nights, still over something small, but something always my fault. He told me that one of my guy friends was a player and that I would become a flirt if I spent too much time with him. Over time, these disagreements became our typical conversations: I was too busy for him, too smart for him, too pretty for him; and yet, I was always something he didn’t want.
I told myself that he just wanted me to stay the perfect girl he loved, but in reality, I didn’t know who that girl was anymore. Instead of sweet and bubbly, I became quiet and moody. My friends didn’t know me, and my own parents avoided me because they never knew which side of me Alex would bring out that day. My best friend, who tried desperately to stay by my side this whole time, attempted to show me what was going on, but I wouldn’t believe her. We were in love; she didn’t understand.
As days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, I began to notice the little things. No matter what we fought about, I was always the one apologizing. I still told him everything, but he told me very little. I needed him, and he liked it that way. Little by little, the wall I had built around myself began to come down. I thought about how much easier life would be without him, and that maybe, just maybe, I could find happiness on my own.
Needless to say, I found the courage to end things with Alex. By doing that, I found the strength to be myself, all on my own. And, I never looked back.
Advice to Parents
It’s frightening to know or suspect that your teenager is in an unhealthy or even violent relationship. Our expert, Tim Boehnlein, offers practical advice on how to help. You don’t have to feel helpless – there are steps you can take.