Today, I want to talk about what unhealthy relationships look like. Maybe you are a parent or caregiver who is concerned that something about your child’s relationship is a little “off.” Hopefully, by the end of this blog, you will have a better insight into what I mean by teen dating violence, the many forms that it can take on, and how to help yourself, a friend or your children.
Relationship abuse is defined as “a pattern of unhealthy behaviors towards a current or former intimate partner in order to gain or maintain power and control. Usually, the behaviors start off subtly and get worse over time. Common factors of relationship abuse are intimidation, fear, and manipulation. Anyone can experience abuse regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, class, or religion.”
Teen dating violence can manifest in physical, emotional, sexual, and digital forms. To be clear: abuse is not always physical.
How Common Is Teen Dating Violence?
- 1 in 3 will experience abuse from a dating partner between the ages of 11-24
- 16-24 year olds experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence
- Some children are experiencing these behaviors as young as 11
Digital Dating Violence
One of the most common forms of teen dating violence is digital abuse and digital violence. This involves the use of phones, tablets, computers, laptops, tracking devices, cameras, etc. in a way to gain, maintain power or control over someone. One form of digital dating violence involves engaging in stalking or harassing behavior against another person even after they ask you to stop. This can take the form of negative comments or reviews on social media sites. It can also include leaving continuous messages even after you do not respond. These do not have to escalate in order to be abusive, but they can. They can simply be unwanted pokes, waves, DMs or comments on your profiles. It can include escalations as you do not respond. For example, if a person says hello, that is acceptable. From there, if they begin to use extra question marks or exclamation points (“where are you???” or HELLO!!) this is a sign of a potential problem. This can also escalate to the point of personal insults, threats to break up, threats to withhold sex, etc. You do not have to know someone to experience digital abuse and digital violence.
Emotional Dating Violence
Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviors that are meant to control, isolate, or frighten you. This may present in romantic relationships as threats, insults, constant monitoring, excessive jealousy, manipulation, humiliation, intimidation, dismissiveness, among others.
When we talk about physical violence, most people think of punching, slapping, kicking, pushing or shoving. It can also include forcefully grabbing someone by the hand, arm or other body part. When it comes to teens, physical violence tends to start out much less obvious and then escalates. It can begin with play fighting, tickling, sitting on top of someone, shoving or pushing, etc. The more that a victim ignores or justifies this behavior, the more room the abuser has to escalate their behavior. Choking, suffocation or strangulation can be signs of physical violence.
What Should I Avoid Doing?
Most importantly: DO NOT JUDGE! If your child calls you, do not bring up the irrelevant. If your child calls for help, their safety and wellbeing should be your number one priority. Do not ask what they were doing sneaking out, if they have been drinking/using drugs, etc. Do not criticize what they are wearing or what they are posting on social media. (All of these are legitimate concerns. However, there are conversations that you should be having before a situation like this comes up.)
Sadly, one of the most common things that we see in teen dating violence is ageism. Parents and other adults will say things about relationships that can be very damaging. Avoid using phrases like “puppy love,” “it’s not that serious,” “you’ll find someone else,” etc. These can all make a teen feel as though things are “not that bad.” Not only will they not trust you enough to come to you, they will think that you do not understand them as an individual. They may feel as though they cannot have a conversation with you and they will be less likely to come to you in the event of abuse. They may also justify the behavior of their abuser, even if you did not talk about the specifics of the behavior.
Do not assume that you know what is going on in your child’s life or what dating looks like now. Ask questions and avoid judgement or reactions that may shut down the conversation. Acknowledge if you make a mistake or make your teen feel as though you are not listening/understanding.
Risk And Protective Factors
Risk factors are things that can increase the likelihood of adverse experiences. Protective factors are things that can decrease the likelihood of adverse experiences. When it comes to teen dating violence, risk factors may include (but are not limited to):
- History of abuse
- Unsupportive environment at home/school
- Prior exposure to violence (ex: family history of domestic violence)
- Social opportunities (sports, faith based, volunteering, healthy friendships, etc.)
- Positive role models
- Economic stability
- Supportive adults
- High self-esteem
- Positive coping skills
What Can I Do as a Parent?
Talk to your child about the signs of teen dating violence. Prepare them for what to do if they are ever in a situation that makes them uncomfortable and offer to pick them up wherever they are, whenever they call. Know who your children are around and have contact information for parents if your child is leaving the house with their partner or others. Offer to be there no matter what and stick to it.
By: Michelle Williams