If your teenager is dating, you probably have a lot on your mind. You might be concerned about unintentional pregnancy or sexually transmissible infections. You might also worry about how your child will feel if the relationship ends. One possibility you might not have considered is that your teen could be a victim of dating violence. More than one out of five teens have reported that they’ve experienced either physical or emotional abuse at the hands of a romantic partner. Knowing the signs and dangers of dating violence among teens can help you step in when necessary and give your child the tools needed to keep him- or herself safe.
What Is Dating Violence?
Dating violence can be physical violence. This would include:
- other types of physical aggression.
It can also include emotional abuse, such as accusations, refusing the allow the victim to talk to certain people or dress a certain way, or gaslighting. Many abusers are very controlling, so their victim might be afraid to set them off by acting “incorrectly” or by saying the wrong thing.
Sexual violence is also a form of dating violence. Rape is, of course, included, but so is coercion when it comes to sexual activities. The abuser might also refuse to use a condom or not allow their partner to use birth control. Unwanted rough sexual activity or forcing a partner to watch pornography are also forms of dating abuse.
Who’s Most at Risk?
Girls aged 16 to 24 are the most at risk of being a victim of dating abuse. This doesn’t mean that boys cannot be victims, however; girls can be the perpetrators, too. Dating abuse of all types is more common in areas stricken by poverty. Young people who are LGBT can also be victims of this type of abuse; some studies show that they are more likely to be victims or perpetrators of dating violence.
Some other factors that might boost the odds of someone being involved with dating violence include:
- alcohol or drug use
- violent peer groups
- uneven power dynamics
For example, when one member of the relationship is much older or more established than the other, abuse might be more likely. With that being said, dating violence can occur in any type of relationship and among couples of any age, race, religion, or income level.
What Are the Dangers of Dating Violence?
When it comes to physical violence, one major danger is that the victim will be seriously hurt. Sometimes, violence begins with ambiguous or mild forms of abuse. For example, the abuser might claim that a shove was unintentional or might slap his or her partner in a playful but unwanted manner. Over time, the violence can escalate to the point that the victim is in danger of bruises, broken bones, and other injuries.
In addition to the physical effects of violence, the victim can lose his or her sense of self-esteem. They might believe that they could not attract the attention of anyone else, so they should stay with their abuser to prevent being alone. A teen who is being abused can be at risk of developing depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Someone who is being sexually abused risks unintended pregnancy, sexually transmissible infections, and physical injury, in addition to emotional devastation. One important danger is that dating violence can turn into marital violence if the relationship continues.
What Are the Signs of Dating Violence in Teens?
Often, parents won’t be aware of dating violence in their teenager’s life. If your teen is being abused, he or she might feel like it’s their fault or that it’s no big deal, and this might cause them to keep it a secret. They might also feel a sense of misplaced loyalty toward their abuser. It’s important to talk about the signs of an abusive relationship with your teen so that they will know what’s happening and will, hopefully, report it and keep themselves safe.
From your end, you might notice the following:
- Unexplainable injuries or bruises on your teen
- He or she might not be attending school or might have poor grades
- There might be emotional outbursts that are uncharacteristic of your teen
- Your daughter might become pregnant (though teen pregnancy is common in relationships that are not abusive, too)
Some signs that your teen might not realize are abusive include:
- controlling behavior
- encouraging isolation from family or friends
- physically hurting them in any way
What Can I Do If I Suspect My Teen Is Being Abused?
Talk to your teen – The first thing you should do if you suspect that your teen is being abused or has been the victim of dating violence is to talk about it. Express your concern over the situation while being sensitive to the fact that your son or daughter might have strong feelings for his or her abuser. It’s not uncommon for teens to deny that they’re being victimized, for a host of reasons. They might feel embarrassed or ashamed, or they might think that if they were a better boyfriend or girlfriend, this wouldn’t be happening.
Be supportive – It’s important to be there for your teen while they decide what they want to do. Interfering in a way that your teen does not want is likely to shut down communication and cause your child to sneak off behind your back. While it’s difficult, you should not step in unless your teen is in immediate danger. If that is the case, you can call the authorities… but keep in mind that this could cause your teen to turn away from you and run back to his or her abusive partner. The best course of action is to be as nonjudgmental and supportive as you can be, while giving your teen the chance to solve the problem.
It’s never easy to let go when it comes to teenagers and dating violence is one of those dangers that you can’t always prevent or save your child from. Try to keep up with what’s going on with your teenager. Make your home a safe space to speak out and encourage your child to have the self-respect necessary to keep him- or herself safe. Don’t be afraid to seek the advice of a counselor if you are having trouble knowing the best action to take when it comes to possible dating violence in your teen’s relationship.