It’s a topic that we don’t like to consider, but as our adolescents turn into teenagers, they will most likely start dating and get involved in intimate relationships. Parents and caregivers are often unaware that unsafe relationships can start as early as the teen years! Just like adults, teens can also get involved in unhealthy relationships that involve physical or emotional violence as well as stalking. According to the CDC’s 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey about 9.4% of high school students reported being slapped, hit or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the prior year. Many times teenagers will go along with the behavior because they are needy for attention (any kind), want to fit in with their friends who are also in relationships, it’s their first relationship and they don’t know any different, or they are scared to try to get out of it. In many cases, they will be reluctant to tell their parents because they don’t want to get in trouble or get their boyfriend/girlfriend in trouble.
It’s important that we watch closely for the telltale signs of an abusive relationship and talk to our kids about it so they are aware as well. Some of these patterns include:
1. He/she is overly possessive. They try to isolate you from friends and have you all to themselves.
2. He/she constantly belittles or puts you down. This creates a relationship in which one member is dominant and the other loses self-esteem. For example, he tells you that no one else would possibly go out with you.
3. He/she physically pushes, shoves, or assaults you in any way. This includes sexual harassment.
4. He/she is extremely jealous about you talking to any other boys or girls. You feel guilty hanging out or talking with anyone of the opposite sex.
5. He/she checks your phone, social media sites or email without your permission or is constantly texting and calling you when you aren’t together and finds out your schedule so he can show up where you are planning on going.
6. He/she has extreme mood swings. One minute he is sweet but the next he can turn extremely angry over the smallest thing.
It can be difficult for parents to get involved because you don’t want to be overprotective or embarrassing to your child. Or, you might even notice that it’s your child exhibiting abusive behavior. However, passively watching the situation could very well lead to danger. Parents should get the authorities involved if there are signs of serious imminent danger. In the meantime, some tips for parents to begin the conversation with your teenager include:
1. Maintain a non-judgmental attitude and stay calm.
2. Listen closely to what they say and acknowledge their feelings
3. Talk about what a healthy relationship looks like and how the relationship they are in compares.
4. Help them find solutions for getting out of the relationship gracefully so it doesn’t cause more embarrassment or unintended grief.
5. Assure your child that they haven’t done anything wrong and are not to blame. Let them know you are there to help them to safety.
A healthy relationship is one in which your teenager can express his/her feelings without feeling afraid or embarrassed. It should be a mutually supportive experience so that each person can reach his/her own goals, have his/her own opinions and have their own friends without any mistrust. Most of all, your young adult should feel safe and loved. When this ends, so should the relationship.