Parents may have concerns that their teen’s relationship may be turning into an unhealthy one. They may wonder whether their teen might is a victim of teen dating violence.
What is Teen Dating Violence?
First, teen dating violence is not just about physical violence. It can also involve being yelled at, put down, threatened, over-controlled or bullied by a partner.
Teen dating violence occurs to teens from all cultures and income levels and is not limited to families with a history of violence.
It is not just about girls. Boys can be victims, and an abusive situation can occur in any type of relationship and at any time in the relationship.
Sadly many teens do not talk about the violence they are experiencing in a relationship because they are embarrassed, feel it is their fault, or don’t even realize it is abuse. They worry they will be forced to break up, although they think they can fix the situation. (That rarely happens.) Some teens also believe that they will be left alone without friends after they admit to abuse.
So how can you tell if your teen is being victimized?
Their grades may start to go down or they may appear more anxious or depressed. Some teens may have bruises or scratches that are not easily explained, are having trouble eating or sleeping, or turn to tobacco, alcohol and other risk-taking drugs.
What can parents do?
They can start early by teaching children about respect – both for themselves and for others – even before a child is interested in a romantic relationship with someone.
Allow your child to talk about what’s going on at school without interrupting except to say you are there to help and not to judge. Focus on your child’s safety and self-esteem. It is important to reinforce that you care about what happens to your teen, you love them and want to help, and the abuse is not their fault, no matter how guilty they are being made to feel.
If your teen doesn’t want to talk with you, suggest another trusted adult that they might want to talk with, such as a school counselor, teacher, health care professional or even the police. If your teen does want to break up, develop a safety plan with them ahead of time (such as always traveling with a friend or even changing course schedules) and be supportive of that decision, stressing how important it is for that breakup to be definite and final.
Hopefully tips like this will be easy ones to relate to when it comes to helping your teen deal with a potentially abusive relationship.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.