February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, although dating violence is an issue that parents should be aware of all year long. Dating violence is far more prevalent than most people think- 1 in 3 teens will experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse from someone they're in a relationship with before becoming adults. Many teens don't know the warning signs of a potentially abusive partner, and might not really know what a healthy relationship should look like, especially if they have been influenced by things they see on t.v. or social media.
We encourage parents to have conversations about dating and healthy relationships early and often with their tweens and teens. Talk with them about how to handle conflict within a relationship, and that relationships should be based upon trust and mutual respect. Teens may feel pressured to change themselves for a dating partner- encourage your child that a good partner will appreciate them just as they are. Tell your teens that physical violence is never okay, and is not part of a normal relationsip. Your teen should know that no one has the right to hit, kick, or harm them, or to pressure them into sexual activities. Encourage them to talk to you or another trusted adult if they or one of their friends is being harmed.
Here are some warning signs for parents to watch out for as their teens start dating or "hanging out":
-Your teen withdraws from friendships or activities that they used to enjoy before the new relationship began
-Your teen changes the way they dress or act
-Your teen has unexplained bruises or cuts (wearing long clothing might be a sign that there are hidden injuries)
-Your teen receives excessive calls or texts from their partner, or seems to need to "check in" with them all the time
-Your teen seems unable to make decisions without consulting their partner
-Your teen shows signs of depression
If your teen shares with you that they might be in an unhealthy relationship, listen openly and without judgement, and try to support your child's decisions. It may be unlikely that they want the relationship to end immediately- it can be isolating if you try to force that decision upon your child. Many victims of abuse believe that the other person can change- you can educate your child that most dating violence increases in severity over time.
While it may be hard to think about, it is also important for parents to know the warning signs that their child may be a potential perpetrator of teen dating violence. While those same early conversations about respect and consent are important preventive factors, parents should also know the following warning signs that your child may be treating their dating partner in an unhealthy or abusive manner:
- Your teen needs to know where their partner is all the time, and is constantly texting them or calling them to check in
-Your teen seems to get angry or jealous if their partner hangs out with other people or participates in activities that don't include them
-Your teen has an explosive temper or drastic mood swings
-Your teen ridicules or insults their partner
-Your teen blames others when they get angry
-Your teen wants to get very serious very quickly with a dating partner.
If you suspect that your teen may be engaging in abusive behaviors, address it with them immediately and seek appropriate counseling. Let them know that their behavior is unacceptable. Emphasize what healthy relationships look like and how they can be a good partner.
For more information about how to talk to your teens about healthy relationships, visit loveisrespect.org