February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, a great time to discuss preventing dating violence and supporting survivors. The National Survey of Teen Relationships and Intimate Violence reports that nearly 70% of teens age 12-18 have experienced some type of abuse in the past year. The CDC also shares that 1 in 12 high school students report experiencing physical dating violence. Teens and adults who care for teens can play an important role in preventing and intervening in dating violence. Read on to learn more about what we all can do to support teens and prevent future violence.
What Parents Need to Know:
Parents need to know how to spot, respond to, and help prevent dating violence. Signs of abuse can appear in your child’s behaviors and their partner’s behaviors. Your child could be: constantly communicating with their partner, showing less interest in hobbies, spending less time with loved ones, making sudden changes to appearance, displaying marks/bruises, experiencing sudden emotional reactions, and/or mentioning threats or coercion by their partner. Their partner may display extreme jealousy or possessiveness, harm other people or animals, or monitor your child’s emails, texts, or social media.
If you are noticing any of these signs of abuse, it is important to talk to your child. Trust your intuition and address anything that seems off. How you discuss dating violence with your child is an important factor in their safety. In order to best keep your child safe, practice non-judgmental listening, validation, and joint decision making. Most survivors of dating violence fear judgment from their loved ones, and criticisms of their partners can cause them to shut others out. Validate your child by letting them know they aren’t alone and their partner’s behaviors are not okay. When discussing safety, make sure that decisions are made together. While it is understandable to want to protect your child, simply being told what to do could cause them to shut others out. A key element in keeping your child safe is being able to continue talking to them about their relationship and safety plans. Discuss various options for safety with your child and make decisions as a team. Connecting your child with resources can help increase their safety, too.
Parents can also be important figures in preventing dating violence from happening at all. Prevention can start at home by talking to your child about values and healthy relationships. Discussing values can lay the foundation for healthy relationships. Let them know how being in a safe, healthy relationship aligns with your personal, familial, and cultural values. From there, you can talk about what a healthy relationship looks like. Parents can also model healthy behaviors for their children, encourage questions about dating, and have on-going discussions about dating violence. Supporting violence prevention efforts in the community, such as Sojourner’s youth violence prevention education program, can further those efforts.
What Educators Need to Know:
People who work with teenagers can also be influential in preventing and responding to dating violence. If a teen you are working with is experiencing dating violence, they may be: always communicating with their partner, less interested in extracurricular activities, spending less time with friend, making noticeable changes to appearance, displaying marks/bruises, experiencing mood swings, and/or suddenly missing class, acting out, or sliding academically. You may also notice their partner being extremely jealous or possessive, making threats, harming other people or animals, and/or monitoring their partner's emails, texts, or social media.
How you talk to a teen about concerns is just as important as talking to them at all. Be sure to clearly express your concerns for their safety and well-being in a non-judgmental way. Focus on their partner's behaviors rather than statements about what they should do. Be sure to inform teens about any mandated reporting requirements you have to follow, too. This ensures that teens are part of the decision-making process in filing reports. Additionally, chat with teens about what their options are and inform them of resources available. Let them know that it isn't their fault and help is available.
Educators can also be apart of preventing dating violence. Prevention in schools can look like facilitating healthy relationship curriculum, speaking up against harmful behaviors, encouraging discussions about dating, and supporting broader violence prevention efforts in the community. Calling out unhealthy behaviors can make a difference, particularly when those behaviors are already normalized. Engage with students displaying harmful behavior by talking to them about how they are impacting others and what consequences they could face. If your school doesn't already offer healthy relationship curriculum, see if there are local organizations that could fill that gap. Schools in Western Hennepin County can contact Sojourner about violence prevention education for middle and high-school students.
Teen dating violence awareness is about intervention and prevention. If we can have discussions about healthy relationships in the home, we can prevent future dating violence. Further, teens experiencing dating violence deserve to be heard and connected to resources. If you are caring for a teen who is experiencing dating violence, help is available through Love is Respect. Teens can call 1-866-331-9474, text LOVEIS to 22522, or chat with an advocate at loveisrespect.org. Love is Respect also provides emotional support and additional resources to parents supporting teen survivors.
What Teens Need to Know:
Knowing the signs of unhealthy relationships and how to support friends is a vital part of helping end teen dating violence. You may notice some unhealthy behaviors from a friend's partner, like being extremely jealous or possessive, harming people or animals, humiliating or degrading them, and/or monitoring emails, texts, and social media. Your friend could also be less interested in activities, spending less time with loved ones, suddenly changing appearances, displaying marks/bruises, having mood swings or shortened temper, suddenly missing class or acting out, and/or being threatened or pressured by their partner. If you notice any of these behaviors, it's important to talk to your friend about it.
When sharing your concerns with a friend, it's important to remain objective and non-judgmental. It may feel really good to tell them how you feel about their partner or simply tell them to break up. However, that may make your friend feel judged, making them less likely to be open with you about the relationship. It is more effective to point out a particular behavior, for example, "I noticed your partner push you into the lockers the other day. That isn't okay, so I wanted to check in with you." From there, be sure to validate your friend's experiences and feelings, and let them know that they aren't alone. Share resources with them, like talking to a trusted adult or calling Love is Respect. It may take multiple conversations with your friend before they make any decisions - that is normal. If you are concerned about your friend's safety, talk to a trusted adult.
Teens can access confidential and anonymous help for free through Love is Respect. Call 1-866-331-9474, text LOVEIS to 22522, or live chat at loveisrespect.org to talk to an advocate. Advocates can provide emotional support and resources for teens and young adults.
Survivors of teen dating violence deserve safety and freedom from fear, and you have the power to make a difference! For more information about teen dating violence, visit loveisrespect.org.