If you are the parent of a teenager, you’ve probably noticed that your child has started showing an interest in the opposite sex. Whether they call it “dating,” “going out,” “hanging out” or “being boyfriend and girlfriend,” it all means the same thing – they are entering into a relationship. While it may seem more like puppy love, the things teenagers learn in their first dating relationships – such as how to treat others and how they expect to be treated – will affect their future relationships.
These formative years can have dire consequences when it comes to dating violence. Most adults and adolescents alike are unaware that 9.4 percent of high school students report being hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 1 in 3 adolescent girls in the U.S. is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner – a figure that far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth.
What you can do
“Parents can help their children learn what should happen from dating by being good role models for respectful relationships,” explained Kathy Jones of Novant Health Community Care Services. “Let your child know that respect is mutual in a healthy relationship and partners are never forced or coerced into behaviors that make them uncomfortable.”
She offered additional tips, including engaging your daughter or son in conversations about dating strategies. Encourage and empower them to remove themselves from situations where they feel uncomfortable. Take the time to acknowledge when your child’s boyfriend or girlfriend is respectful, and recognize that directly criticizing a boyfriend or girlfriend may have the undesired effect of increasing your teen’s commitment to the relationship.
“While you should be present and aware of what’s going on in their relationships (both with partners and friends), be sure to give them time to be alone with their peers,” Jones cautioned. “Warn your teen that alcohol is the number one date rape drug, and make sure that he or she understands that violence is never part of a healthy relationship.”
Know the signs
While ensuring you give your teen adequate space, keep an eye out for these warning signs of unhealthy teen relationships:
- Notice if your teenager starts giving up activities or ignoring friends.
- Be aware of declining school grades.
- Watch if your child fears upsetting a boyfriend or girlfriend by not responding to constant texts or calls.
- Look for any red-flag physical injuries, such as bruises that don’t make sense.
Sometimes teens see warning signs in a friend’s relationship and may be receptive to talking about their concerns for their friend. “It’s important to take advantage of these teachable moments to offer guidance for dealing with unhealthy relationships and reiterating the importance of respect, communication and feeling safe,” Jones added.
There are many resources available for support, information and advocacy for healthy dating relationships.
Love is Respect – A national teen dating abuse helpline, counselors are available 24/7 for real-time, one-on-one support for those involved in unhealthy relationships, as well as concerned parents, teachers or friends. Visit loveisrespect.org or call 866-331-9474.
Project Safe – Social workers from Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center’s Project Safe program are available to provide guidance. They may be reached at 704-614-7212, Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, from 2 to 10 p.m.