Would you recognize signs of dating violence? Many teens don’t report it to friends or family. It can be difficult to recognize despite the significant prevalence. Victims might not say anything out of fear for their safety, embarrassment, low self-esteem, or not recognizing the abusive behaviors. Whatever the reason for the under-reporting, parents and other adults who interact with teens must recognize signs of dating violence to help protect our kids.
We want our kids to develop healthy relationships where they can have fun, grow in their own identity, and be true to their own values. Healthy relationships are founded on honesty, trust, and communication. There is mutual respect.
Dating abuse can happen in any unhealthy relationship. It happens to smart people, rich people, girls, guys, LGBT, and can happen in any community. We see news stories of abusive relationships but it doesn’t always seem real. A new bride murdered. A teen raped. A sports figure accused.
Unfortunately we don’t even know about most abusive relationships. People suffer silently. How is a parent to know?
Can a teen see risk factors before becoming involved with a risky personality?
Parents might look for the “type” of teen that they want their child to steer away from, but unfortunately, the abusers are not easily identified.
Abusers do not look like drug dealing, tattoo covered, pierced people in tattered clothing.
They are difficult to recognize on first glance because they tend to be popular, smart, good looking, and personable.
They are often good at reading people and responding to other’s desires, making them seem “perfect” initially.
Abusers manipulate others. Have you heard of gaslighting? It’s a common means to make the victim feel responsible.
They gain trust.
They weave deception.
Traits to watch for in an abuser:
- Blames others for all problems
- Wants to move quickly into a relationship
- Criticizes others
- Does not respect personal boundaries
- Denies responsibility for actions
- Takes risks
- Insulting (you’re fat, you’re stupid, no one else would love you like I do)
- History of hitting or hurting others
- Tries to monopolize your time and life – wants to control what you do, who you’re with, even what you’ll wear
- Seems perfect initially (no one’s perfect!)
- Mood swings or can’t manage anger or frustration well
What an abusive relationship might look like
Starting out – all seems great!
The relationship typically starts out well. A lot of laughs, good times.
If it didn’t, people would leave.
Power and Control cycle
Abusers have a power and control cycle that builds over time. They gain a little trust, then test with a little control.
Bit by bit they become more controlling and abusive. It builds so slowly many people miss the early warning signs and then are so swept by the cycle that it’s hard to leave.
Abusers want to know your every move, which at first might even seem flattering, but it is a control tactic. They might choose what you wear or where you go. Abusers monitor your phone calls to see who you talk to. They isolate you from your friends and even family so you lose your support group. They put you down so you feel no one else would like you or want you. Abusers make you feel less of a person and they are “good” to put up with you.
They get jealous (again, flattering on the outset because they “care”). Abusers often apologize for hurting you, but then claim it is your fault that they behave that way.
In truth, they blame others for most of their behaviors and only take credit when things make them look good.
Breakthecycle.org has a really cool interactive wheel to see the relationship between words and actions. Move your cursor around the wheel to get more information on each topic in the orange part of the wheel.
- One or both people try to change the other
- Control: one person makes most or all of the decisions
- Isolation: one or both people drop friends and interests outside of the relationship
- Fighting: one or both people yell, threaten, hit, or throw things during arguments
- Verbal abuse: one or both people make fun of the other’s opinions or interests
- Jealousy and control: one or both people keep track of the other all the time by calling, texting, or checking in with friends
- Relationship moves quickly to “serious”
- Mood swings, anxiety, depression, personality changes
- Physical signs: bruises, cuts, scrapes, showering immediately when coming home
- Abused feels guilty and “at fault” and makes excuses for their partner
- Drug or alcohol use
- Multiple sexual partners
Follow your instincts
If you suspect something is not right, act on your hunch and take action to address issues and leave the relationship early if problem behaviors persist.
If your teen is in a relationship with someone who is violent, your teen may:
- Avoid friends, family, and school activities
- Make excuses for a partner’s behavior
- Look uncomfortable or fearful around a partner
- Lose interest in favorite activities
- Get lower grades in school
- Have unexplained injuries, like bruises or scratches
If you think your teen might be an abusive person:
Teens who use physical, emotional, or sexual violence to control their partners need help to stop. Don’t make excuses if you think your child has a problem.
If your teen is abusive, he or she may have these characteristics:
- Jealous and possessive
- Blames other people for anything that goes wrong
- Damages or ruins other people’s things
- Wants to control a partner’s decisions
- Constantly texts or calls a partner
- Posts embarrassing information or pictures about a partner online
How to prevent and seek help for teen abusive relationships.