When teens start dating, parents start worrying double-time. Will they choose a good partner? Will they make good sexual decisions? Will they be safe?
Unfortunately, many teens aren’t safe in their current dating relationships. Around 1.5 million high schoolers in the U.S. report they’ve been intentionally hit or physically harmed in the past year by someone they were dating.
This violence poses more than just obvious dangers. In addition to the teen’s physical well-being, parents should be concerned for their teen’s emotional and mental health. This includes substance abuse. Often, abuse from a relationship pushes abused teens toward drugs and alcohol in order to cope with the violence and shame. They feel the abuse must be hidden – especially from parents and other family members. Only about 33 percent of teens involved in an abusive relationship confide in someone about the violence.
Suffering in silence, teens often turn to substances and are at risk for alcoholism and other drug addiction.
Warning Signs – For Parents
How can you tell if your teen is in a violent dating relationship? Some of the signs can be tricky. Teens are often moody and unpredictable, even when nothing is seriously wrong. But watching for the following red flags in their behavior can help spot an unhealthy dating relationship:
- Avoiding other relationships
- Difficulty making decisions
- Sudden changes in personality – becoming anxious, depressed or secretive
- Scratches, bruises or other injuries
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
- Using drugs or alcohol
Warning Signs – For Teens
Whether or not you suspect your teen is in a violent dating relationship, it is important to educate them on the topic. It is easy to think our own children are exempt from the statistics, but this is a dangerous mode of thinking. Because teen dating violence is so prevalent, it’s essential your teen is aware of it - and knows how to escape it.
Talk to your teen about this issue and keep the lines of communication open. Let your teen know they can - and should - tell you or another trusted adult if anyone physically harms them. Assure them they don’t have to feel ashamed and it’s not their fault. Remind them it’s never okay for a romantic partner to physically hurt them.
Provide your teen with the following warning signs that indicate their boyfriend or girlfriend poses a threat to their well-being:
- They are possessive of you (get angry when you interact with others).
- They make all the decisions. They even try to tell you what to wear or where you can go.
- They are violent with others.
- They use mean language when talking to you.
- They blame you when they hurt you.
- They insult you in front of others.
- They pressure you to do something sexual you don’t want to do.
Make it clear that these actions are not acceptable. They are not loving. They are controlling and dangerous. Teens who do not have a good understanding of what a healthy dating relationship looks like are at greater risk.
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