Each February, young adults and their loved ones across the nation raise awareness about the issue of teen dating violence through Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM). This annual, month-long effort focuses on advocacy and education to stop dating abuse before it starts.
It can be incredibly challenging, frustrating and/or scary to know your teen or someone you love is experiencing dating abuse. It can also feel helpless in not knowing what to do or trying to support your teen. Family Tree would like to provide some helpful ways in which you can help or support your teen or a loved one you know that you suspect or is experiencing teen dating violence.
According to loveisrespect.org, “1 in 3 girls in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner”. Additionally, “1 in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a [partner]”. With statistics like these, it’s possible that we all know a teen that has either experienced teen dating violence or is currently experiencing it.
Warning Signs of Teen Dating Abuse
Dating abuse is a pattern of coercive, intimidating, or manipulative behaviors used to exert power and control over a partner. While we define dating violence as a pattern, that doesn’t mean the first instance of abuse isn’t also dating violence; we simply recognize that dating violence tends to involve a series of abusive behaviors over a course of time. (loveisrespect.org)
Here are some suggestions that we invite you to try when supporting your teen:
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Although it can seem awkward and uncomfortable, asking could potentially help a teen open up to you and also increase their safety. Some questions you could ask might be:
- “How have things been with you two lately?”
- “I noticed you are having a hard time; how can I help?”
How to Help
If Your Teen Discloses Dating Violence
If your teen decides to disclose the dating violence to you, be a safe person. Listen and validate are key ways in which to initially respond. Next, let them know you love them and care about them. Share with your teen that you are concerned about them and their safety. Ultimately, tell your teen “It is not your fault.” It’s also important to remind your loved one that healthy relationships are not like this. Also, make sure you comment about the abusive behaviors and not about the abusive partner as the teen may feel defensive and might not open up to you again.
Leaving an Abuse Relationship is a Process
In an unhealthy or abusive relationship, it can be incredibly difficult for the person experiencing abuse to leave their partner. This process is not linear and can be different for everyone, so giving space to your teen and supporting them can sometimes be the best way to help. Additionally, remember that leaving an abusive partner can be the most dangerous time for the person experiencing the abuse. Although you are concerned for their safety, trust that your teen knows their relationship better than anyone and try to support them as they navigate this process. If you are a parent, sometimes this can be more difficult. For example, a parent might react by telling their teen that they will be grounded if they don’t break up with their partner. Autonomy is important in leaving an abusive partner, and ultimatums may encourage the teen to just continue the relationship in secret. In order to keep that open communication, try your best to support your teen in deciding their next steps together.
Taking Care of Yourself
Like we stated before, it can be incredibly difficult to watch your loved one, especially a teenager, experience violence in their relationship. Take care of yourself, do lots of self-care, and make sure you know your own limits. If you feel like you need additional support you can reach out to Family Tree’s Domestic Violence Outreach Program (email@example.com) where advocates are available to give support and resources to both you and your loved one.
Resources For Your Teen
LoveIsRespect peer advocates are available 24/7 through phone (1-866-331-9474), online chat (loveisrespect.org), and text (start by texting “loveis” to 22522).
Additionally, there is an app for your teen’s smartphone called Choose Respect that can be a great resource for youth.
If you would like to learn more about Family Tree’s Domestic Violence Outreach Program, please visit https://www.thefamilytree.org/domestic-violence-outreach-program for program and contact information.