Author: Sara Blume; Survivor Advocate
Did you know that teens in an abusive relationship are more likely to harm or abuse themselves? They are also more likely to become involved in an abusive relationship as an adult. Congress designated February as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month in 2010 and Families First wants to bring attention to this very prevalent issue. While it’s always a great time to talk to teens about healthy relationships, this month serves as an opportunity to start the conversation on dating violence if you haven’t already.
Dating violence can be just as traumatic and dangerous to teens as domestic violence is to adults. Their younger age does not exclude them from any form of abuse, be it physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, or financial. As parents, friends, mentors, and loved ones, it is critical to reach out and give teens an open space for communication about relationships. Having a conversation rather than lecturing adolescents can help them to feel heard and their opinions valued.
Some things to address regarding relationships are: social media safety, cyberbullying, criminal consequences of teen dating violence, who the teen can turn to for support, and signs of healthy versus unhealthy relationships. Even if the teens in your life are not dating, you can always set the stage by talking about these topics in terms of their friendships.
One way to start the conversation is simply asking what the teenager values in a relationship and what they see as healthy or unhealthy signs. Listed below are possible answers for each that you can use to prompt further or more specific discussion. Hearing what they see as examples of these things can open opportunities for additional topics.
Healthy Signs: open communication, mutual respect of each other (including how the other spends their time, respecting outside activities like work or sports, respecting the other’s values like religion or school), realistic and healthy expectations about the relationship, strong trust, feeling safe and accepted, healthy boundaries, enjoying time apart, healthy disagreements, feel a sense of belonging, having fun together and apart, quality time together.
Unhealthy Signs: isolating partner from friends and/or family, using money to control or guilt, unreasonable and/or aggressive jealousy, compulsive lying, ignoring or excluding, refusing to communicate, name calling, guilt trips, threats to self or partner, manipulation, using physical force or abuse, constant put-downs, criticism, or embarrassment.
Teens deserve safe, loving relationships just as adults do. Some of them might need help realizing it, and that’s where a trusted person in their life can make an impact. To learn more about teen dating violence or how to engage adolescents in these topics, here is a list of additional websites: