Not surprisingly, the entire month of February has been designated Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Considering that one in five high school girls has been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner, it is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed. Creating awareness is a necessary first step in that process.
While many parents of teens are already aware of the prevalence of teen dating abuse and violence, few realize that preteen girls—and boys—are also victims. Unfortunately, when tweens become sexually active at an early age, they increase the likelihood of experiencing abuse and violence throughout their teen and young adult years. In fact, youth who are victims of dating violence in high school increase their chances of being a victim during college as well.
Dating violence is definitely not something to be ignored. It can have a long-term negative effect on the victim throughout his or her lifetime. For starters, victims are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, and the chances of participating in unhealthy behaviors like tobacco use and drug and alcohol abuse increase. For these reasons, prevention and early intervention are critical. The following tips should help:
- Talk to your son or daughter about healthy dating relationships. Explain what it means to be in a healthy relationship that is built on mutual respect and trust. Whenever possible, model these relationships in your own home.
- Talk to your teen if you think he or she may be involved in an abusive relationship. Start by being a good listener as this will increase your chances of hearing the whole story. If your child won’t talk; however, you will need to find another trusted adult who can break the barrier.
- Keep in mind that the main message of any conversation should be about your child’s safety and self-esteem. He or she needs to understand that an abusive dating relationship is both physically and mentally dangerous, and that the problem will likely escalate.
Parents who recognize this cycle in their own home or in their teen’s romantic relationship should intervene as soon as possible. Begin by discussing the issue with your son or daughter, and express your concerns, but keep in mind that it’s not unusual for teens to feel defensive and refuse to acknowledge what’s happening. You may need to seek the advice of a professional counselor or your local domestic violence organization. Likewise, domestic violence that occurs in the home between parent and child, siblings or other family members is equally serious, and it also needs to be addressed.
The following resources may be helpful:
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Sexual Assault Hotline
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street Columbus, OH 43206 or by phone at 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.