How can I talk to my teen about dating violence?
In the U.S., nearly 26% of women and 15% of men experience intimate partner violence for the first time before they turn 18. In hopes of shedding light on the experiences of teenagers in abusive relationships and preventing other teens from falling into future abusive cycles, Congress declared February National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
While it can be difficult addressing scary topics like teen dating violence and abuse with your child, it’s incredibly important that teens are able to identify what abuse looks like and how they can avoid abusive situations.
Teen dating violence is a broad term that is generally defined as abusive practices occurring between 13-22 year olds. These abusive practices can include emotional, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Ensuring that teens as young as 13 can identify these forms of abuse may seem extreme, but for many young teenagers their first relationship may be with someone older and more experienced.
As seen in cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by students at boarding schools, teens without proper supervision or knowledge of healthy relationship dynamics can be victimized by older classmates who prey on the inexperience and excitement of their younger partners. Naivete has also played a role in the abuse perpetrated by adults who target socially isolated, vulnerable individuals who may not understand how they are being groomed for abuse.
Start the talk about dating abuse
Regardless of the abuser’s age, abuse is a method of control. Though most victims of abuse will recognize physical violence and sexual violence as clear efforts by their partner to control and intimidate them, it’s also important to educate your child on psychological aggression and stalking as a means of teenage dating violence and abuse. These forms of abuse can damage a child’s fledgling self-image and self-worth, while enabling an abuser to exert more control over all areas of their partner’s life.
Psychological aggression is when partners use verbal and non-verbal communication to harm another person mentally or emotionally. This can include constant criticism, name-calling, and even “ghosting,” which occurs when partners cut off communication as a form of punishment.
This kind of abuse begins tearing down the self-esteem of the victim, convincing them that they are failing their partner and need to change to make their partner happy. Psychological aggression also isolates and intimidates the victim, oftentimes in private, which can result in the victim feeling unable to seek help from their friends or parents.
Stalking is another tool used in teen dating violence and abuse. The repeated, unwanted attention or contact by an abusive partner is another way the abuser controls and dominates their partner. It’s especially important to discuss stalking with your child as it can often be misinterpreted by teens as another form of passion or romance.
Every year, millions of teenagers struggle in unhealthy, abusive relationships. Discussing teenage dating violence and the signs of abuse with your child before it happens is one of your only resources in protecting your child from a potentially dangerous situation.
It’s also critical to establish an open dialogue with your child about unhealthy, abusive behaviors so they will feel comfortable seeking out your support and advice in all areas of their lives.
Read: How Short Talks Can Build Strong Conversations.
If you are struggling with your teenager’s behavior (maybe they were victim of a sexual attack) and have exhausted your local resources, learn more about how residential treatment can help your troubled teen through emotional growth. Contact us today for a free consultation.