The start of February kicks off Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, where educators and community leaders bring light to rates of teen dating violence and look for ways to prevent it.
Dating violence in teens may be more prevalent than you think. According to the CDC, 26% of women and 15% of men who were victims of intimate partner violence experienced it for the first time before age 18. Nearly one in 11 females have experienced physical dating violence in the past year.
What is even more alarming is that dating habits formed in your child’s teen years can stay with them through adulthood. This means that men and women who experience violence during their first few relationships are at risk of experiencing future abuse and trauma as they get older.
It’s time to break this cycle at the source. Here’s what parents need to know about teen dating and how your child’s current partner can affect their romantic futures.
Teen Dating Violence Has Long-Term Consequences
Dating violence in teens often goes unreported and is frequently overlooked by those who experience it. At the time, a teenage girl or boy might not realize that they were coerced into something they don’t want to do but instead might feel uncomfortable or afraid that their partner will leave them if they don’t do what they want.
“Teen dating violence can start as [simply] as one person changing the other person’s no to a yes,” Nabilah Talib, director of Wellness Services for YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, says. “It’s coercion.”
One partner can continue to push boundaries or set rules over their significant other. This may be done with violence, but it more frequently occurs with pleading, persistence, and “acts of love,” that are meant to wear down the other party.
Even after a teenager breaks out of an abusive relationship, they can experience long-term mental and physical health risks that can impact their future romantic and social relationships. Sherri Gordon, author and bullying prevention expert, shared a list of potential risk factors that can affect teens who are in violent relationships. A few of the top risks include:
- Believing dating violence is acceptable.
- Struggling with anxiety, depression, and mental illness.
- Engaging in sexual activity at a young age and have several sexual partners.
- Lacking social problem-solving skills.
- Feeling socially isolated and lacking social support.
- Tapping into emotional disengagement and other unhealthy coping mechanisms.
- Struggling to ask for help or reach out for support.
Essentially, the teen could associate violence as a normal dating experience and continue accepting and staying with partners who abuse them – either physically, emotionally, or financially.
Modern Dating Can Be Incredibly Confusing to Parents
Every generation has its own dating trends, habits, and lingo – and every generation of parents has been confused by their child’s behavior and dating status. However, understanding teen dating in 2021 can seem even more overwhelming to parents who are also navigating social media channels and texting alongside traditional dates.
How can parents prevent abuse and help their teens form healthy relationships when they barely understand modern daily practices?
Fortunately, the more things change, the more they stay the same. “Getting teens and young adults to open up and have honest dialogue about relationships has been treacherous territory for parents since forever,” Marybeth Bock, MPH, says.
Some best practices that transcend time and technology. Bock encourages parents to focus on lasting habits that will help them long after they leave high school. This includes being conscious of what they put online (and knowing that it stays up there forever), being kind to others, and being able to walk away if they do not feel valued or appreciated. Regardless of how or where teens meet and where their relationship goes, these principles can help them set boundaries and value themselves.
Banning Kids From Dating is Not the Answer
As a parent, it is understandable that you want to protect your child from abuse and set them up for healthy relationships in the future. You may try to prevent them from dating until they are older – while hoping they will be more mature then. However, there are benefits to teens who start dating during adolescence.
Amy Morin, LCSW, explains that kids learn about communication, caring, thoughtfulness, impulse control, and both pushing and setting boundaries as they start dating. They learn how to take risks and face rejection. These lessons can stick with them as they get older and continue dating and as they have other experiences in life.
Additionally, dating is a big part of social status in teens. “It’s the acceptance and inclusion from teens’ peers that speaks volumes and validates who they are in the moment,” the team at UPMC explains. Even the most self-confident, internally-validated teen is likely to have moments when they want to feel desirable to the gender they are attracted to and moments when they want to show how they are developing normally.
As parents, the best you can do is help teens build up their self-confidence and self-esteem while instilling healthy dating habits in hopes that they choose safe partners.
How Family Resources Helps With Teen Dating
If you are a worried parent who wants to help their kids: you don’t have to be a child development expert or adolescent psychologist to guide your teens through the world of modern dating. At Family Resources, we offer a variety of Healthy Relationships workshops to help teens learn more about themselves and get ready to start dating.
These workshops cover topics ranging from setting realistic relationship expectations and communicating boundaries to boosting self-esteem and promoting self-care. These courses are meant for teens ages 15-18 and are free to attend. Our facilitators will travel to schools and community groups to lead each lesson.
At Family Resources, our goal is to prevent abuse by teaching teens healthy habits before they enter serious relationships and to break bad habits early on before they become accepted norms. By helping teens learn about themselves, they can take steps in their dating to build boundaries and prevent partners from crossing them.
Learn More About Our Services
Get to know more about Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and how Family Resources is working to lower rates of teen abuse. You can also learn more about our teen relationship programs to help young adults prepare to start dating – whatever that means in the constantly changing world of modern technology.