When you became a parent, you might have thought that getting through the newborn or “terrible twos” stages meant that you were through the hardest part. As your child approaches adolescence, however, you may have come to realize that one of the most challenging phases of parenting is still ahead of you.
During the tween and teen years, kids experience significant emotional, physical, and psychological changes. They aren’t little kids anymore – and they probably have strong reactions to your offers of help and guidance. Yet despite their often bristly exteriors, teens need their parents and other trustworthy adults more than ever during this time. This is particularly true when it comes to the relationships that they form during this time.
How Common Is Teen Dating Violence?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 12 high school students in the U.S. have experienced physical or sexual dating violence. Some teens – including young women and LGBTQ+ students – experience higher rates of violence compared to male and cisgender heterosexual students. This type of abuse can include emotional, sexual, and/or physical violence. Rates of mental or emotional abuse are particularly high, with as many as 76% of teens reporting psychological abuse in their relationships.
Abusive relationships can have both short and long-term impacts on anyone, particularly on a teen who is still growing and developing. Young people who experience teen dating violence are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, to engage in unhealthy behaviors like using alcohol and drugs, to exhibit antisocial behaviors like lying and theft, and to contemplate self-harm. Violence in a teen relationship can also increase the risk of an individual experiencing abuse in future relationships.
Although teen dating violence is shockingly common, it is often overlooked. According to one survey, just 33% of teens who were involved in an abusive relationship ever told anyone about it. It is little wonder, then, that 81% of parents either believe that teen dating violence isn’t an issue or admit that they don’t know that it is an issue.
Tips for Talking to Your Teen about Dating Violence
If you’re parenting a tween or teen, you know how hard it can be to get them to have a conversation with you – let alone an in-depth discussion about a serious subject. Fortunately, there are some steps that you can take to have a talk about teen dating violence.
Encourage open and honest conversation, which may include debate. As parents, we may fall into a pattern of telling our kids “because I said so” or expecting them to listen to us without questioning. While this may work for younger children, teens are less likely to just accept what you say. If you engage in a thoughtful discussion, they are more likely to come to their own understanding.
While you should be open to engaging in conversation with your teen and sensitive to them, you are still the parent. You may have to make decisions that they won’t like. Treat your teen with respect, but remember that you will still have to be firm.
Understand that your teen’s brain is still developing. Many behaviors are considered normal during the teen years, including mood swings and risk-taking behaviors. Having some insight into what is within the range of normal can help you provide guidance without being overly harsh.
Take a clear stand. While you should be willing to engage in conversation with your teen, make sure that they know how you feel about physical violence, consent, the use of abusive language, and disrespect.
Use real-life situations as your jumping off point. It can be hard to start a conversation about heavy topics like domestic violence. If the opportunity arises – whether it be from a news story or even a plot point on a TV show – take the chance to have a conversation with your teen.
Be sensitive to the pressures that teens face. While it may seem like the distant past, we were all teens at some point – and we can probably remember the pressure that we were under to be “cool” or to engage in certain behaviors. Keep those pressures in mind as you talk to your teen and help them think through various situations.
Focus on the positive. It is easy to just focus on the things that you want your teen to avoid, such as getting into a relationship with a controlling partner. While talking about red flags is important, it is just as critical to highlight positive relationships – whether it’s your own or someone else’s! For example, you may point out how a character on a TV show checked in with their partner to make sure that they were comfortable with a situation.
Talk about how your teen can be an ally. Even if your teen is never a perpetrator or victim of violence, they can still play a role by saying something if think a peer is in an abusive relationship or is being abusive.
Stay involved in your teen’s life. While these years are a time where most teens are exploring independence, find ways to stay connected. Learn about their friends and their interests, and think of activities that you can do together.
Acknowledge that you will make mistakes – and apologize to your teen when you do so. Modeling this type of behavior is a good way of helping your teen make better choices in their own lives.
How We Can Help
As a parent, you should also learn red flags for teen dating violence. You should also know that if your child is in an abusive relationship, we can help.
Blackburn Center offers a range of services to victims and survivors of gender-based violence, including those involving teens. We have a 24-hour hotline that is free of charge and can be anonymous. As a parent, you can call our hotline to talk about your options or get advice on how to handle the situation if you believe that your teen’s relationship is unhealthy or abusive. We also offer counseling, therapy, and other forms of support.
If you need us, we are here for you: 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available).