Teen Dating Violence: One Part of a Bigger Problem
Relationship abuse is an issue that eats at the very core of our society. The long-term consequences of abuse are almost too many to list: PTSD, alcohol and substance use disorders, depression, difficulty forming healthy relationships – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In the words of former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter:
“Without any equivocation…the number one abuse of human rights on earth…is the abuse of women and girls.”
While this quote is specific to women and girls and our topic is dating violence that affects both boys and girls, former President Carter makes his point: abuse is rampant, worldwide, and represents not only a local problem, but a global phenomenon we need to recognize and remediate. When you address this issue in your teen, you’re part of a greater work that’s happening right now: the move toward a world in which love, empathy, and compassion share space with – and hopefully supplant – power and physical strength as primary currencies in relationships.
What Constitutes Teen Dating Violence?
Teen dating violence happens more than most people think. A majority of the adults who can help – i.e. school counselors and parents – admit to not knowing about it, not thinking it’s an issue, and not knowing what they’d do if they did find out about it.
Considering those facts, it’s no wonder a third of teens who experience dating violence don’t tell anyone anything about it. The chances are they won’t be believed, and if they are, the adults they tell might not have any help to offer them.
We offered the latest statistic on teen dating violence in our recent post February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month: Know the Facts About Teen Dating Violence. Here are some additional facts for parents and teens to know:
- Almost ten percent of students who dated report being physically hurt by the person they were involve with.
- Physically hurt means being:
- Hit or punched
- Slammed into something
- Injured with an object or a weapon.
- Over ten percent of students who dated report being forced to do sexual things against their will.
- Sexual things include being:
- Forced to have intercourse
What You Can Do
If you find out your teen is being violent or abusive toward their significant other, your first job is to stop the abuse. You may find out through observing the behavior, hearing about it from your teen’s friends, or hearing about it directly from their significant other or their parents. Whatever way the information comes to you, you need to act on it.
Right now. Don’t wait. Every moment builds on the last, and if you know and do nothing, three things happen: you give your tacit consent, you make it worse for the abused, and you make it harder to break the cycle.
Ten Steps to Take if You Discover Your Teen is Being Abusive
1. Do not ignore it.
Hiding your head in the sand will only make things worse.
2. Get your teen out of the relationship right away.
You need to protect the other teen and address the issue immediately with your teen. The best way to end it is to insist your teen stop all contact of any sort with the other teen: no texts, no calls, no social media, no pressuring their friends, none of that whatsoever. No contact means no contact.
3. Separate the behavior from the person.
Abuse is a horrible thing. However, if your teen is abusing someone, it does not make them a horrible person. It means your teen has a problem that you need to help them resolve.
4. Acknowledge their feelings.
Recognize and understand the depth and intensity of their emotions, but do not validate the way they handle them. Your teen needs to understand that any type of abuse – emotional, physical, or social – is unacceptable.
5. Get to the root.
Find out what’s making your teen so angry. Understanding the reasons does not condone the behavior, but it’s essential in understanding how to stop it.
6. Model appropriate behavior.
Make absolutely sure that you are not being abusive to your spouse, your children, or anyone in your life. Parents are teen’s first examples: if there’s abuse or a history of abuse in your home, then that’s likely to be the root cause.
7. Teach social and emotional skills.
Brainstorm stress management skills, emotional regulation skills, and focus on empathy and compassion. Your teen needs to be reminded that victims of abuse can suffer long-term physical and emotional consequences.
8. Teach appropriate boundaries.
Teach your teen that in healthy relationships – even the most intimate – clear boundaries exist. These boundaries are emotional, physical, and in the 21st century, they’re digital, too. When a partner sets a boundary, it has to be respected completely and immediately, no questions asked.
9. Teach them how to handle conflict.
Your teen needs to understand that conflict does not have to end in a physical or verbal fight. There are productive ways to disagree, even when the feelings are raw and the emotions are intense.
10. Get professional help.
If you feel unequipped to handle an issue this serious (it is very serious) or you feel your teen is not responding well to your intervention, then seek the help of a fully licensed and credentialed psychiatrist or therapist. See below for links to point you in the right direction.
Resources for Parents
You are not alone. As mentioned above, millions of teens each year experience relationship abuse and/or dating violence. For every example, there’s a person on the other side: it’s important to remember that as unacceptable as abusive behavior is, the abusers need help, too. They need help learning to process their emotions and handle relationship difficulties without resorting to abuse. They need help managing stress, managing anger, being accountable for their actions, and learning positive and productive habits. If they’re off track, they need your help and guidance. It’s hard, but you’re the one who needs to spearhead the healing.
We offered a list of resources in the article we mentioned above, but here they are again:
- Find a qualified professional in your area with this psychiatrist finder provided by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
- Help your teen learn about how to establish and maintain healthy relationships at the Love Is Respect
- Help them learn still more at the Break the Cycle
- And more here: Start Strong – Building Healthy Teen Relationships
Also, if you have a teenage son who needs help with these issues, A Call to Men has a mission we can all get behind: “…to promote a healthy and respectful manhood and shift attitudes and behaviors that devalue women, girls, and other marginalized groups.” We can’t think of a better mission than that, but we might rewrite it to say:
“We’re committed to promoting a healthy and respectful adulthood and shift attitudes and behavior that devalue anyone, anywhere.”
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.