National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month: Part Two
February is “Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.” The Domestic Violence Awareness Project (DVAP), along with other organizations, are calling attention to this problem that affects one in three teenagers. Part One of this series called attention to the prevalence of the problem, what teen dating violence actually is, why it occurs, and the consequences to teen victims.
Part Two provides guidelines to parents and friends, and offers some possible interventions to teens who are in an abusive dating relationship.
Behavior That Should Alert a Teen the Dating Relationship Is Abusive
According to the familydoctor.org, many teens who are in abusive dating relationships fail to report it for several reasons. They may be too embarrassed or even afraid to tell anyone what is happening. Some teenagers are unaware the relationship is abusive and think it feels like love. Teenagers who are questioning whether their relationship falls into the category of abuse should ask themselves some questions about their dating partner.
- Does the person want you to spend every moment with them to the exclusion of your friends and family?
- Does the partner control who your friends are and who you can spend time with?
- Does the partner express excessive jealousy and accuse you of betraying them when you did no such thing?
- Does your partner emotionally abuse you by calling you names, shaming your physical appearance, acting embarrassed when you speak, scaring you, and yelling at you.
- What about physical abuse? Does your partner slap, pinch, hit, kick, pull out hair, or touch you in any inappropriate way?
- What about sexual abuse? Does your partner say things like, “If you really loved me, you would” do whatever sexual act they want you to engage in even if that act makes you uncomfortable?
These actions are not indications of love, but indications of control. Truly loving relationships are grounded on respect, mutual discussion and trust.
Red Flags That Indicate to “Bystanders” That a Teen Is in an Abusive Dating Relationship
As a parent or friend, you may be suspicious that your teen, or your friend, is in an abusive dating relationship even though the teen denies it. There are some strong indications that your suspicions are true.
- You observe the dating partner frequently insulting and putting down the teen.
- The partner makes all of the dating decisions.
- The teen quits spending time with family and other friends.
- The teen gives up activities he or she at one time really enjoyed.
- The teen blames himself or herself for the poor conduct of their partner.
- The abused teen may have either unexplained marks and bruises, or begins wearing baggy clothes or long-sleeved shirts, apparently trying to hide his or her body.
- The teen frequently checks in with the partner and returns messages almost instantly.
When confronted, teens in abusive relationships often deny the abuse. They may even lash out at you for suggesting the relationship is abusive, and feel compelled to defend their partner. There are some ways you can approach the teen that may open the door for conversation, instead of coming across as judgmental.
How Family and Friends, as Bystanders, Can Help Teens Escape an Abusive Dating Relationship
It is not always an easy fix. The first step is to open the door for conversation, but a confrontational approach may just shut the door. Try these tips for getting the teen to talk. Although the source was written specifically for parents, it can apply to friends and other bystanders, perhaps teachers, as well.
- Be sure to know the signs of an unhealthy relationship before you begin the conversation.
- Find the right place and time to talk. Do not just suddenly spring a “we have to talk” ultimatum on the teen.
- Explain to the teen what your observations have been. A parent could begin with a non-judgmental, “I notice your grades have been slipping. Is there anything you want to talk about that might be causing that?” A friend could ask, “I haven’t seen much of you lately. I miss you. Do you think we could get together this weekend?”
- Listen. Again, this has to be without judgment. If the teen shares with you anything about the abuse, do not begin by offering solutions like, “You must break up” with him or her. Instead, commend the teen for having the courage to discuss it with you. Ask the teen to offer any solutions he or she may have thought of.
- Any criticism needs to focus on the behavior, not on the abuser. If you criticize the abuser, you may push the teen further away from you and make him or her feel the need to defend the abuser. Instead, a friend may say something like, “I am sad that he doesn’t want you to spend time with me.” A parent may respond by a comment about “It bothers me that he doesn’t want you to see your best friend anymore.”
- Do not question or doubt what you are being told. Believe what you are being told about the abuse in the relationship.
- Enlist the teen’s help in creating a plan of action. Ask the teen what the next step will be and offer unconditional support in assisting the teen in taking that next step.
Focus on the strengths and positive attributes of the teen instead of passing any judgment on why they seem to be “allowing” the abuser to abuse them.
One thing that many abused teens are unaware of is what a healthy dating relationship looks like. Part Three will discuss how to educate teens on healthy dating relationships and how they themselves can set boundaries in order to prevent or escape abuse.