February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. While it’s something that none of us wants to think about, dating violence among teenagers is a rampant problem. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 represent the demographic group most likely to be abused in a relationship, and one in ten high school students has been hit or otherwise hurt by a dating partner. One in three has been physically, verbally, emotionally or sexually abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend. If these figures seem shocking and scary to you, it’s because they are!
While you can’t completely protect your kids from getting into an abusive dating situation, you can talk to them about this and keep your eye out for potential signs that something is not quite right. Here are some tips:
- Make sure that your teen knows the signs of impending abuse. Usually it starts off gradually, in ways that are controlling but not abusive in the beginning. If a partner is invading her privacy, such as checking her texts or emails without permission, or acting in a controlling way, like telling her what to wear or where she is allowed to go with friends, this is a warning sign.
- Remember that verbal abuse is abuse, too, even if it has no physical component. If your child’s date is yelling, putting him down, telling him that he will never find another girlfriend or accusing him of cheating on her without cause, these are all signs of verbal abuse.
- Remind your teenager that her body is her own no matter what. It doesn’t matter if she has been sexually intimate with her boyfriend; she always has the right to say no. Also, make sure she knows how to stay safe from date rape: She should always let someone know who she’s with, she should be careful to stay away from any substances that might impair her judgement, and she should stick with group dates until she is comfortable with a new boyfriend.
- Make sure he knows that he can talk to you about anything. Also, encourage your child to find other adults in the community, such as a teacher, guidance counselor, pediatrician, aunt or uncle, or a family friend, that he feels comfortable talking to. There may come a time when he does not want to come to you with a problem, and it’s important that he has another responsible adult to confide in.
Remember that dating violence against teens can happen to boys or girls. While girls are more likely than boys to be sexually assaulted or physically injured by a partner, your son may be susceptible to emotional or verbal abuse, as well as to physical violence in the form of slaps, pulled hair, pinches and shoves. And same-sex couples have dating violence rates roughly equal to the rates in heterosexual couples, so keep that in mind as well.
Hopefully you will never need this information, and you may be many years away from dealing with teens and dating. It’s a good idea to periodically review these things with your teenager, though, in an effort to keep him or her as safe as possible from the threat of dating violence.