Todd and Emily have been dating for a few weeks and he is beginning to act like he owns her. He complains when she spends time with her friends or anyone but him. He expects her to meet him in the halls between classes, eat with him at lunch, and hang out with him every weekend. Afraid she’ll lose him, Emily obliges and begins to cut herself off from her friends
This kind of POSSESSIVENESS isn’t love – it’s abuse. No parent wants to believe that this scenario, or worse, could ever happen to their child. Unfortunately, the statistics prove differently. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 3 teenagers experiences physical violence in their dating relationship. Further research concludes that approximately 50% of teens report being hit, slapped, or physically hurt, on purpose, by a boyfriend or girlfriend and 24% report cyber or digital harassment.
These statistics are alarming. In a recent study conducted by the Children’s Safety Network, teen dating violence has become a public health issue. Teens who are victims are more likely to be depressed and do poorly in school, engage in unhealthy behaviors, like using drugs and alcohol and are more likely to have eating disorders. Some of the victims even think about or attempt suicide. Furthermore, teens who are victims in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college.
Many teens do not report abuse by a partner because they are afraid to tell friends and family. So how can we help? As parents, it’s our responsibility to be aware of our teen’s relationships and educate ourselves on the important issues and the signs of an unhealthy relationship and teen dating violence.
Teens tend to minimize abusive behavior. Parents and teens need to know that unhealthy relationships can start early as early as 6th grade and last a lifetime. Relationships that turn violent don’t always start out that way. Most often, relationships that escalate to violence start with teasing and name calling. These behaviors are often thought to be a “normal” part of a relationship but can lead to more serious violence like physical assault and rape.
How can you recognize the signs of abuse? Following are some indicators of an unhealthy or abusive relationship:
- Jealousy – falsely accuses partner of cheating or liking others
- Possessiveness – always wants an explanation of his/her whereabouts; constant texting; always stopping by unexpectedly
- Threats of violence and frequent arguments that escalate to abuse
- Controlling – doesn’t allow the partner to be included in decision making
- Violates your boundaries – checks your emails or texts without permission, and doesn’t listen when you tell him/her NO!
- Gets “serious” too quickly – claims it’s because “I never felt this way before”
- Isolation – doesn’t let partner hang out with their friends or stay involves in activities that don’t include him/her
- Doesn’t take ownership of feelings/actions – always blaming others and blaming the partner for their mistakes
- Doesn’t show respect for their partner – minimizes their values and dismisses their opinions
- Insults and Teases and makes the partner believe they are insecure or taking the comments too personally
- Has been in an abusive relationship in the past
- Disrespectful to other – rebellious or defiant of authority or to other peers
- Cruelty to animals
Types of abuse
A fact that surprises many is that not all abusers are male. Females can be abusers also. In an effort to break the cycle of abuse, we need to stop stereotyping and recognize that abuse can happen to anyone. It crosses all economic, gender, racial and religious lines. Most common are the following 4 types of abuse:
- Physical Abuse:Any intentional use of physical force with the intent to cause fear or injury, like hitting, shoving, biting, strangling, kicking or using a weapon.
- Verbal or Emotional Abuse:Non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring, humiliation, intimidation, isolation or stalking.
- Sexual Abuse:Any action that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs, including rape, coercion or restricting access to birth control.
- Digital Abuse:Use of technologies and/or social media networking to intimidate, harass, or threaten a current or ex-dating partner. This could include demanding passwords, checking cell phones, cyber bullying, sexting, excessive or threatening texts or stalking on Facebook or other social media.
Helping Your Child Or a Friend Get Out Of An Abusive Relationship
How can you help? As a friend, parent or concerned party, the most important way to help is to:
- Be Non-judgmental
- Don’t blame them for the abuse
- Take them seriously and don’t minimize the abuse
- Don’t pressure them to get out
- Keep what he/she tells you confidential. This establishes trust
- Point out how the relationship is harmful to them
- Reinforce that relationship abuse is not acceptable or “normal” in a healthy relationship.
- Encourage them to get help from a professional
- Suggest they document the abuse (save your text messages and voicemails)
- Remind them they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect
- Act as a role model in your relationships
- Suggest a safety plan if they are in imminent danger
If you are the victim of an abusive relationship trust your feelings and don’t minimize what is happening to you. Research shows that the abuse will not stop and will often get worse. Speak out and get help from a trusted adult. You have the right to be safe and be in a happy and healthy relationship.
Local and National Resources
The Family Place 24 hour Helpline (972-243-1611)
Love Is Respect National Dating Abuse Helpline (800 331-9474)
Teen CONTACT (972-233-8336)
Genesis Woman’s Shelter (214-946-4357)
www.cdc.gov (Dating Matters Initiative)
Non-Profit of the Month
Family Place BE Project – BE Project provides age and culturally appropriate classroom and therapeutic groups to children 3rd-12th grades, as well as to college students. The BE Project mission is to prevent all forms of bullying, including dating and sexual violence, and builds healthy relationships among youth.by addressing topics such as healthy relationships, violence in the media, dating violence, healthy communication, bullying and cyber-bullying.