Do you think that emotional or physical abuse could possibly be a part of your teen’s dating life?
Most people answer with an emphatic “NO” to this question. In fact, 81% of adults say that they don’t think that dating violence is an issue for teens. But there could be issues below the surface in many teen relationships that the adults in their life may be unaware of.
When the APA (American Psychological Association) surveyed teens and young adults, they found a disturbing trend: 41% of females and 37% of males say that they’ve experienced teen dating violence at some point in a dating relationship.
In fact, individuals aged 16-24 report three times the national average of dating violence compared to older adults (dating violence statistics by state). It’s also important to note that many times a person may be the victim AND the perpetrator. Unhealthy relationships often create the “perfect storm” for volatility, where one person is the kindling and the other person the flame. When the match is lit, combustion is often inevitable.
Relationship violence is something that victims and perpetrators often go to extreme lengths to hide. Shame and guilt can be strong motivating factors to silence. This is why keeping open lines of communication with your teen is so important.
Here is how to talk about healthy relationships, red flags, and how to respond if your teen is in that 36-41%.
The Essentials In Every Healthy Relationship
A healthy relationship follows the acronym “PEACE.”
Talk with and model these elements in your own romantic relationships as well as in your relationship with your teen. Modeling in both walking the walk AND talking the talk, increases the chances that your teen will listen and follow suit.
It’s also important to discuss potential red flags in relationships, even before they arise. Have conversations about good relationship boundaries. Use your teen’s favorite TV shows or pop culture icons to prompt discussion about what’s acceptable behavior from a partner. These examples give your teen enough emotional distance to be able to recognize unhealthy patterns and relationship dynamics.
If You Have Concerns About Teen Dating Violence, What Should You Do?
Addressing unhealthy relationship concerns can be tricky for parents (and concerned friends of a person in the relationship). Forbidding contact may push the relationship into further secrecy, driving it underground. However, if you are fearful for your child’s safety – if physical violence is happening in the relationship – you need to step in and take action. Contact the appropriate authorities, communicate with the school and make sure that the parties are protected.
Creating Space For Relationship Questioning
1) Listen and hear without judgment: Validate your teen’s feelings, but ALSO educate them about what a healthy relationship looks like.
2) Ask open-ended questions: Start questions with “I wonder” or “What do your other friends’ relationships look like?” They key here is to give your teen space to explore their thoughts and hopefully arrive at healthy conclusions on their own.
3) Create distance: You can make it harder for your teen to be with the unhealthy partner by having them occupied doing other things. Get or Keep them involved in activities that expand their sense of purpose and build their support network. Take phones away at night to limit potentially negative interactions. And create “blackout” zones for digital distance.
4) Find support: Love is Respect is a project through the National Domestic Violence Hotline empowering youth to prevent and end dating abuse. If you live in Phoenix, there are organizations that provide support and education to teens and parents. Kaity’s Way is one of these groups: They hold workshops for teens, parents and groups about dating violence prevention.
If your teen finds him or herself repeating unhealthy relationship patterns or is struggling to end a relationship, consider reaching out to a local therapist who provides individual or group therapy and understands teen issues. This can help them develop self-confidence, establish healthy boundaries, incorporate effective communication skills, and address any trauma that may be present from instances in their past.
Above all, keep the channels of communication open with your teen. You are their first “mirrors,” reflecting their value and worth. Support them through their challenges, protect them with your experience, and celebrate them in their growth and successes.