With February being Teen Dating Violence Awareness month, I thought it appropriate to discuss the issue of teen dating violence more in depth. In my opinion, it is never too early to talk about relationships and appropriate behaviors in relationships with our children. So, how can adults address these issues with the teens in their lives?
TEENS TURN TO THEIR FRIENDS FOR ADVICE
How can we talk to our teens about dating violence? First we must acknowledge that teens are not going to just come to the adults in their lives to talk.
• One study reported that when female high school students were asked whom they would talk to if someone they date is attempting to control them, insults them, or physically harms them, 86% percent said they would confide in a friend, while only 7% said they would talk to police.1
• 83% of 10th graders surveyed at the 4th Annual Teen Dating Abuse Summit reported that they would sooner turn to a friend for help with dating abuse than to a teacher, counselor, parent or other caring adult.2
• Only 33% of teens who were in an abusive relationship ever told anyone about the abuse.3
ADULTS NEED TO LEAD THE WAY
This says to me that as adults, we need to be prepared to lead the way into these conversations—be prepared to not have all the answers, but be ready to find them if needed. Start the process by gathering information about dating violence. Be aware of the red flags and the signs to look for that indicate your teen could be in trouble. Know the resources available—the teen dating violence hotline number, the Hope House hotline number, and websites specifically geared toward teens. Then start the conversations.
HOW TO TALK TO YOUR TEEN
Ask your teen about their friends and what type of experiences they have had. Some examples of questions you can ask:
• How does your partner talk to you?
• Have they asked you to do anything that made you uncomfortable?
• What are your partner’s expectations in regards to sex?
• Does your partner try to control who you can spend time with when you’re away from them?
As the parent, you’re trying to determine if the relationship is a healthy one or if there are red flags. Even if you know the parents of the partner’s family, don’t assume everything is ok. We still need to ask questions. Depending on the relationship between the adult and the teen, some of these questions will be harder than others, but often the hardest part is starting the conversation.
Hopefully we can open those channels of communication with our teens. By talking to them about their relationships, we are preventing teen violence before it happens.
National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline 1-866-331-9474
Hope House Hotline: 816-461- HOPE (4673)
Hope House website: http://www.hopehouse.net/
Teen websites: www.loveisrespect.org and www.loveisnotabuse.com
1Tiffany J. Zwicker, Education Policy Brief, “The Imperative of Developing Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Intervention Programs in Secondary Schools.” 12 Southern California Review of Law and Women’s Studies, 131, (2002).
2 The Northern Westchester Shelter, with Pace Women’s Justice Center, (April 2003).
3 Liz Claiborne Inc., Conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, (February 2005).