Did you know individuals ages 16 to 24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence? The statistics are staggering when it comes to teen dating violence and it is being swept under the rug not because parents and educators don't care, but because they do not know what they are battling. Many times, when teen relationships are rocky, parents just see this as a sign of their teen's immaturity or theatrical tendencies. Violence is not even on the radar for consideration. But what is so frightening is that many teens are being abused by their partner and yet only 6 percent ever tell anyone.
Physical Abuse is probably the most obvious form of abuse but it is not the only type of abuse that a teen can experience. Anyone can be the victim of emotional, sexual and digital abuse as well. These are just a few signs to look for if you think your son or daughter might be in a relationship with an abuser. Just remember, not all signs will be drastic. Over time, the abusive partner might become more aggressive and even braver in his/her dominance in the relationship. Power and control are the two things that they are seeking.
Signs to look for in your teen's relationship
Many times, in an abusive relationship, the abuser will want to dominate the time of the victim. It is common for your teen to want to spend time with their significant other, especially while the relationship is new. The concern arises when the teen victim cannot be alone without the insistent badgering of the significant other. When not with them, the abusive partner is texting them, calling or using social media to keep "tabs" on them.
Your job as the parent is to set healthy boundaries in their time together. Instead of your teen seeing their partner every day, allow them to pick one week day to hang out (go to youth group together on Wednesday nights) and one weekend night to go on a group date. Other days help your teen focus on their personal interest and desires. The goal is for them to form healthy individual opinions and interests.
2. Change in personality
Teenagers are moody so parents need to assess this sign carefully. If your teen is usually carefree and upbeat, but is now very reserved, quiet or nervous, this could be a warning sign. In cases like this, the abuser usually will blame his/her partner for how they are responding. Over time, the victim realizes that as long as they are quiet or agree to everything, the abuser won't start arguments. In order to keep the peace, the teen victim will drastically change their personality to avoid confrontations with their boyfriend/girlfriend. The abuser has blamed their violent actions on the victim for so long, the teen victim begins to believe it is their fault.
As parents, we need to raise emotionally healthy children that understand that they are never responsible for the negative emotions or outbursts of others. In times when they do deal with such negative behaviors, they will recognize that it is not normal or acceptable.
3. Unexplained bruises or injuries
Usually before physical abuse begins, the teen victim has already suffered some emotional abuse and has been isolated from family and friends. The bruises and injuries may not be as noticeable because he/she will cover them up or make up excuses to how they got them. As parents, we need to explain to our teens that an abuser doesn't have to leave a bruise or break a bone to be physically violent. Grabbing an arm or the victim's face to get "their attention" is just as unacceptable. Be on the lookout for other signs of abuse. Physical force is usually accompanied by other forms of emotional, sexual or digital abuse.
I cannot begin to write an exhaustive list of things parents need to be aware of when their teen begins to date. I can tell you that you must be diligent and alert. Open communication with your teen could be lifesaving. So many times, abuse in teen relationships could be stopped if we, as parents, knew what we were looking for.
More importantly, as the parent, it is not only our duty to protect our teenagers, but also set and demonstrate what a healthy relationship is. The best place to start is in your own personal relationships.
Sarah is a Christian Author and Speaker. She wrote the parenting book, "Walking the Talk: A Parent's Guide to Intimacy and Healthy Relationships" and maintains the blog A Life Inspired. Her passion is to equip the next generation of families to speak boldly and walk confidently in their faith and charge as parents. You can stay up to date with Sarah on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.