Is your teen dating? If you think not, there is a pretty good chance that you are wrong. The reality is that nearly 90% of teens between the ages of 13 and 18 say they have been in dating relationships. Yet the topic of teen dating doesn’t seem to be getting the attention it deserves. Have you talked about it with your teen?
Here are some staggering statistics (Liz Claiborne Inc. study on teen dating abuse conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, February 2008.)
- 62% of tweens (age 11-14) who have been in a relationship say they know friends who have been verbally abused (called stupid, worthless, ugly, etc.) by a boyfriend/girlfriend.
- 1 in 3 teenagers report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt by their partner.
- More than 1 in 4 teenage girls in a relationship (26%) report enduring repeated verbal abuse.
- Nearly 80% of girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationships continue to date their abuser.
Seeing as our early relationships set the tone for our future relationships, I’d say that based on these facts, we should be talking about this. A lot.
Young boys and girls are influenced most by what they’ve seen in the home. If they have experienced parents being respectful, kind, and loving to one another, they will usually treat their partners this way, and expect to be treated this way in return. However, those teens that haven’t been so lucky, who have witnessed physical or emotional abuse, alcohol or drug abuse, lack of respect, anger, and other bad examples will likely follow.
Worse, peers and the media, including social media, also influence teens. Teens who feel unloved will seek attention from a partner, and those with low self-esteem will try to impress others at any cost. Boys may act “tough” or “macho” because they think it will make them seen “cool” to their peers, even if they are mistreating a girl in the process. She will stay in the relationship, and often even do things sexually that she’s not really comfortable with, just to feel loved or more popular. These actions cannot be undone.
What should you be doing as a parent to make sure your son or daughter is not causing harm or being subjected to abuse? Here are 10 tips.
- You should be talking. Talking to them, talking with them, talking about yourself, talking about others, talking about what you hear on the news, and what you’re reading in magazines. Talk until you can’t talk anymore, and then talk more. Your teen will try to shut you out and shut you down. Don’t fall for it. Even when they’re not listening, they hear you. Really.
- Ask a lot of questions. They don’t have to be personal. Ask general questions like “are many of your friends dating?” or if they know what verbal abuse is or if they’ve heard of dating violence. Ask if they know anyone who’s been forced to do something they don’t want to do or disrespected and ask what they would do if it happened to them?
- Educate them about the statistics mentioned above. Let them know how common it is, and teach them how to be respectful and how to demand respect.
- Educate them about how drugs and alcohol impair judgment and place you at risk. Talk about the buddy system.
- Let them know they are loved. Don’t make them seek “love” from an outside partner to make them feel loved. They need to love themselves first in order to be in a healthy relationship.
- Tell them it’s ok if things don’t work out. Dating is supposed to be an exploration of what kind of person you like/dislike and what kind of partner you want to be with. You only learn this from dating different people until you figure it out and find the right match. Nobody expects them to get it right the first try.
- Remind them that relationships fail all the time. That does not make you a failure. The important thing is what you take away from each experience, the knowledge and growth that you acquire as you move forward into the next relationship.
- Make sure your teen knows whom they can talk to if they have a problem or if they know someone else who has a problem. Maybe it is a certain teacher, priest, rabbi, neighbor, friend’s parent, or coach. It doesn’t really matter, as long as it is a mature, responsible and caring adult. It just might not be you.
- Don’t be offended if your teen doesn’t tell you everything. Or anything really. This is developmentally normal, as they move towards separation from you. Just let them know you are there for them and don’t be judgmental.
- Let them have fun. Make sure they know not to take life so seriously that they forget to enjoy it. Dating and having new experiences is supposed to be fun!