Preventing Teen Dating Abuse
The teen years can be an exciting and anxious time for your child - and you. One of the more nerve-wracking moments may be your child's dating. It's natural for a parent to worry. You want to keep your child safe. Knowing about the dangers of teen dating violence can help you prevent it and, if needed, identify such abuse.
You may consider teen dating violence as only physical abuse, such as slapping, hitting, or kicking. But it can encompass so much more. Any controlling or abusive behavior toward an intimate partner is dating violence. Emotional attacks, such as name calling or bullying, are one common form. Other examples include sending harassing text messages, forcing sexual situations, and stalking.
A recent nationwide survey by the CDC found that more than 9 percent of high school students have been victims of physical dating violence. When all types of abuse are factored in, some studies suggest that up to 25 percent of teenagers may experience relationship abuse.
Both girls and boys can be victims of dating violence. They experience similar rates of threats and harassment. But girls are more prone to sexual violence. Relationship abuse is also more likely among African-Americans and Hispanics.
The effects of dating violence aren't confined to the teenage years. Recent research found that study participants who were victims of teen dating violence had more health problems later in life. Girls who suffered relationship abuse as teenagers were more likely five years later to drink heavily, smoke, have depression, and be suicidal. Boys became more antisocial, used drugs, and were also suicidal. As adults, both groups reported higher amounts of violence in intimate relationships.
Adolescents most at risk for dating violence are those who lack respect for themselves and others. Additional risk factors include:
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Anger problems
- Depression or anxiety
- Multiple sexual partners
- Violent friends or home life
As a parent, you may find it hard to believe that your child's boyfriend or girlfriend is being abusive. And no matter how close you think you are with your child, he or she may be reluctant to tell you about any dating violence. Children may feel embarrassed or think it's their fault. They may also be concerned about the consequences of confiding in you, such as losing friends.
Every teenager reacts differently to certain situations. But experts point to common warning signs of abuse. These often happen suddenly:
- Changes in behavior, such as being secretive or crying a lot
- Physical marks such as bruises and scratches, or dramatic changes in appearance
- Lack of interest in once-favorite activities
- Poor school performance
- Alcohol or drug use
Keeping up the conversation between you and your child is one of the best ways to prevent dating violence. It's also important to teach your child to build healthy relationships - ones that stress respect, trust, honesty, and good communication.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.