As discussed earlier, teen dating violence is a relatively common problem that can occur in any socioeconomic circle. It’s important to recognize teen dating violence, but it’s even better to learn teen dating violence prevention and what to do if you recognize trouble!
How we raise our children from infancy and continuing throughout their lives helps set the expectations for relationships.
Abusive home increases the risk
If your home is not safe make every attempt to make it so.
We need children to feel loved and secure.
Children who feel unloved might look for love in all the wrong places, trying to please others and end up being taken advantage of.
Kids need defined limits, but an ability to learn and grow into independence with experience. Being firm and setting boundaries is an important part of being a loving parent.
Parents are NOT their child’s friend.
You don’t need to be a friend to be an effective, loving, parent who is well loved and respected.
As your child grows and matures, it is important that you allow them to take more responsibility for their plans and actions.
Be a role model
Kids need help learning to stand up for themselves and to deal with anger and disappointment in a healthy way. Set an example for this. Life typically presents many opportunities to model these behaviors.
Show healthy communication in your relationships. Use positive phrases, respectful words, and compliment one another.
Don’t let one partner dominate. Take equal share of responsibilities and decisions.
Do things with your significant other and with other people. Expect that your partner will also spend time with others. Don’t be overly jealous. Relationships need trust. Always spending time together isn’t healthy and doesn’t allow you to each follow your own interests.
Respect others in your life and be sure they also respect you.
If you have not learned to control your temper, learn.
Ensure enough sleep for everyone at home, as we are all more short-tempered when tired.
There are many self-help books on this topic and counseling is available if you struggle in your own relationships.
Friendships and dating relationships provide an opportunity for teens to learn and practice healthy communication, social skills, and managing strong feelings.
Teens need to develop independence while the trusted adults around them provide support and help them stay safe.
Talk to your kids about healthy choices and as they mature, allow them to make more decisions about what they do, when they do things, and who they are around. If you feel they aren’t making safe choices, let them know why.
Don’t be judgemental in how you approach things. There’s no faster way to turn a teen off to a conversation than putting him or her down or by making them feel like they’re being lectured.
Kids should be taught to respect themselves in all they do: eat nutritionally, exercise, get enough sleep, wear helmets, buckle up, stay away from drugs, etc.
Kids should be taught to respect others: say nice things, don’t ask others to do things that might cause them harm, respect their personal space and things, etc.
Teens should enforce that others treat them with respect.
If a friend does not treat them with respect, they can try first to talk with the friend about it if they feel safe doing so. If the friend does not change behaviors, they should take a break from the friendship.
Talking to teens
Start before they’re dating
It’s best to start talking about healthy relationships before your child starts dating.
Set expectations for how old they will be when they are allowed to go out in groups of boys and girls as well as when they will be allowed to go on an actual date. How well do you need to know the person they will date?
Talk about what they should do if they find themselves in a scary situation.
Discuss rules for friends coming to the house if you’re not home. Or if they’re allowed to go to a private area or if they must stay in the family room.
Talk about what to look for in a romantic partner, qualities that are important and not just superficial.
Ask how they would like to be treated and how they will treat their date.
Talk about sex. Kids who have sex at young ages are more likely to have multiple partners. Having multiple partners increases the risk of infections and dating violence.
Drugs and alcohol increase risk
Remind kids that alcohol and drugs impair our abilities to handle our emotions and actions. They do not excuse our actions, but we tend to not make good choices when we’re under the influence.
We also put ourselves at risk of a forced sexual encounter when we’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Date rape can also occur if someone slips a substance into a drink, so they should always carry their drink or get a new one from a trusted source.
Starting the conversation
Use opportunities that present themselves to trigger conversations.
If you see people arguing in a television show, talk about what was and was not effective in how they handled the situation. Ask what your kids would have done differently.
If the news reports another #MeToo story, ask what your teen’s thoughts are on the subject. Talk about recognizing unhealthy relationships and how to get out of abusive situations.
If your child asks questions, don’t shy away. Don’t assume they’re too young to hear the answer because if they’re asking, there’s a reason.
You can certainly ask where they’re coming from to help guide your answer, but answer honestly.
If you don’t know what to say, offer to talk about it at a specified time in the near future, such as after dinner that night. That gives you time to think and plan what to say but let’s your child know you want to talk. Don’t forget!
Be there to just listen if your child needs an ear. Offer encouragement and advice. Do this routinely, not just if you’re concerned about a specific issue.
If you always offer an ear without harsh judgement or unsolicited advice, your kids are more likely to keep talking. (Note: Just because they want to talk doesn’t mean they’re ready to accept advice. Ask if you can offer advice and wait until they say yes.)
Remind teens that they are never to blame if someone forces them to do something sexually they don’t want to do. They need to feel open to share this pain with you or another trusted adult so they can get the help and support they need.
What if there is an unsafe relationship?
It can be frustrating if your child’s in an unhealthy relationship but isn’t ready or willing to leave.
It can be difficult to enforce ending a relationship. Be careful in how you approach the situation. Consider working with professionals at the school or in the community.
Advice to get out of a relationship will be better received if your teen understands how their relationship is not healthy. Help them understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
They need to know it isn’t their fault and it isn’t under their control how another person acts. Ideally, your teen will be able to make the decision to leave the relationship.
I’ve actually seen a teen get pregnant on purpose because her parents refused to let her see her boyfriend. She decided that they’d have to allow him to see his baby (and by default, her). Of course it didn’t work as planned. She did get pregnant, but it didn’t help her relationship.
If you think they’re in immediate danger, you need to seek professional help.
There are many ways to get help
Abusers often monitor computer and phone use, so use caution.
SafeHome (KC Area)
From a safe computer, click here if you’re in the KC area. From a safe phone call 913-262-2868. (Phones answered 24/7 confidentially at SafeHome).
Safety Plan (Love is respect)
Love Is Respect has a great safety plan for teens who are planning on leaving an abusive relationship.
Dating Matters is a free, online course available to educators, school personnel, youth mentors, and others dedicated to improving teen health. Learn what teen dating violence is and how to prevent it through graphic novel scenarios, interactive exercises, and information gathered from leading experts.
National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline
These resources are designed specifically for teens and young adults. It is managed by the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) and offers support from trained Peer Advocates.
Call: 1-866-331-9474 Calls are answered 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Text: “loveis” to 22522