Violence in teen relationships has been on the rise over the past few years.  Although there are lots of reasons and many theories about this, one of the primary issues is that teens don’t necessarily know what is considered healthy versus unhealthy in a relationship.  Many teens who have experienced violence in their relationships have also been victims of other forms of abuse.  Perhaps this clouds the boundaries a little, and makes it seem like something is okay when clearly it is not.

February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.  There are a ton of resources out there to help you and your teen navigate through the messages, and to create the opportunity for a great conversation.

Why is this conversation important?  Because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 2009 nationwide survey revealed that almost 10% of high school students report that they were deliberately physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the preceding 12 months.  In other words, (and also according to the CDC) one in ten teens will be physically abused between the grades of seventh through twelfth.  The ages between 16 and 24 are the most susceptible to dating violence, and this type of abuse increases the likelihood of the drug and alcohol abuse, precarious sexual conduct, eating disorders, and suicide attempts.

One of the biggest factors in teen dating violence is the lack of awareness.  Teens don’t often know what to consider normal and healthy versus unhealthy or dangerous.  For example, there may be a very fine line between love and protection, and “ownership,” especially in the eyes of a teen.

Here are a few simple ideas to help highlight the topic in your home, and to help prevent it from affecting your children:

  • Talk to your kids (boys and girls) about safe and appropriate boundaries, respect in dating, and age appropriate dating habits.
  • Volunteer at a domestic violence shelter.  Explain to your daughters that violence and abuse does not just happen to weak women, or poor women, or whatever stereotype they may believe. Violence can happen in any relationship at any time. And, violence should not be tolerated in any relationship at any time.
  • Teach your kids to show and expect respect.  Make sure you are giving them great examples in your home.
  • Date your children.  Take your children out on regular dates to help teach them what to expect, how to act, and how they should expect to be treated.  This is best if Dad can take his daughter out and Mom can take her son.  Show them traditional standards, i.e., boys open doors for girls, girls sit first; practice the art of conversation; illustrate the difference between compliments and flattery; and take the opportunity to talk to them about safety and respect.

Again, take the time to talk about the issues, ask them if they’ve noticed unhealthy interactions at school or with their friends.  Make sure you and your kids know of local resources, just in case.  And look for more information together.  Check out some of the following websites, and encourage your teens to check them out (some are specifically for tweens and teens, with the content even written by a “council” of teens):

CDC Teen Dating Violence: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teen_dating_violence.html

National Domestic Violence Hotline: http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/teens-and-dating-abuse/

Break the Cycle/ Love is Respect: http://www.loveisrespect.org/

There is a lot of information out there.  Please take the time to talk to your kids and find resources.  It’s up to us to teach our kids about respect, to show them respect, and to give them the knowledge and power to stay safe!

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