This post is the first in a 2-part series on domestic violence and children/teens. In this post we will focus on Teen Dating Violence.
Teen dating violence (TDV) is a crucial issue in the lives of adolescents. TDV, also called dating violence or dating abuse, is defined as “a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors used to maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner” [Source]. The type of abuse in TDV can be in the form of:
- Emotional [threats, name calling, belitting],
- Financial [withholding money, taking money],
- Social [keeping you away from friends and family]
- Sexual [forcing sex, coercing to have sex], or
- Physical [hitting, punching, pulling hair]
Many of us tend to focus on one aspect of abuse—the physical aspect. Nevertheless, as we see in adult domestic violence, the physical is only one aspect of a teen dating violence relationship. Statistically, emotional, social, economic, and verbal abuses are listed as common sidekicks along with the physical abuse [Source]. In my work with teens who have experienced TDV, many teens reported that they have felt sexually threatened [sexual TDV] and have been in relationships where their significant other has prevented them from spending time with family and friends [social TDV].
Along with defining teen dating violence, it is equally as important to recognize the risk factors involved with this type of abuse. TDV usually shows up in adolescents who interact with peers and social circles that endorse dating violence as a part of dating. But, teens can also be influenced by a negative a school and home environment where there are negative depictions of dating relationships and there is no discussion on the subject of teen dating violence. Additionally, media portrayals of dating and relationships heavily influence how teens view what is acceptable in a relationship.
But, before you go tell you teen that they cannot start dating until they are 30 years old, let’s look at what a relationship with teen dating violence looks like:
In most teen abusive relationships, break ups are harder on the victim because the abuser has made the victim feel as if life without them is meaningless. In addition to this, the victim feels that they are the reason the abuser is leaving, leading to feelings of guilt and self-hatred. What to look for: If your teen is wondering if what they do is good enough in the relationship, then they could be exhibiting one of the warning signs of TDV.
In a teen dating violence relationship, the desire to control their partner is a key motive for engaging in abuse; the abuser may even convince the victim that this is a form of protection suggesting the love they have for one another. What to look for: Look for your teen to stop hanging with their usual set of friends for no reason, especially their opposite sex friends.
With the ever changing attitudes of teens, it can be hard for a parent to recognize when these changes are a result of an abusive relationship. However, in working with teens, I have noticed that teen are more willing to change for their abuser due to having no experience in relationships, a desire to illustrate their independence [ironically!!], and what they have seen in media portrayals of what a good relationship looks like. What to look for: When teens find themselves unhealthily attached to their partners [like they’re inseparable 24/7] and when they believe that pleasing their partner is the more important than their own happiness.
Recommendation for Handling TDV
One of the best ways to combat these risk factors is to provide teachers, school counselors, community leaders and parents with information on teen dating and equipping them with the skills to identify and confront instances of suspected TDV. Another way to help deter the effects of TDV is to illustrate to adolescents what constitutes a healthy relationship. This can be through acknowledging positive media portrayals, or having your teen list what they think is a healthy relationship and discussing that list.
All this may make the average parent terrified of letting their teen begin dating, but awareness has always been my main goal in helping parents makes decision about their child. Being aware of what TDV looks like and the risk factors involved is the first step to helping your teen make the right decisions about dating and starting romantic relationships. The second step is having a thorough and frank conversation with your teen about what you expect from them in a relationship [yes, that means readdressing the sex talk!] and being open to what your teen thinks about relationships as well.