Four Ways to Prevent Teen Dating from Turning Violent

Around 10% of teens are intimate partner violence victims. In recognition of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, we share ways trusted adults can help.

Teenagers have it tough: they are somewhere between child and adult, and there are more questions swirling around them than answers. They are learning how to drive a car, working their first job, and maybe falling in love. Growing up and starting new relationships can be confusing, and for about 10% of dating teens, also dangerous. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, a month dedicated to highlighting the unique challenges teenagers face when navigating intimate relationships for the first time. This month helps educate teenagers and their parents about what a loving, consensual relationship looks like, which can help stop the cycle of abuse and potentially reduce the cases of domestic violence over time.

It’s All Innocent Until Someone Gets Hurt

Adults sometimes brush off red flags in young relationships as “puppy love” and do not consider the serious threats that loom behind the innocent facade of teenage relationships. Intimate partner violence can and does happen in teen relationships, and there are significant short- and long-term consequences, including suicide attempts, eating disorders, drug use, and fatality. According to studies, young people aged from 12 to 19 experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault. Situations between young people can escalate quickly, but parents and other trusted adults have a unique perspective to help recognize a problematic relationship and intervene as soon as possible. Here are four ways to keep teens safe:

  1. Know the signs. Parents and people who work closely with teens can educate themselves on the red flags that may pop up without any warning: uncharacteristic mood swings, unexplained bruises or marks, withdrawing from friends and family, etc. Teens may not be willing to open up about what is going on in their personal lives for many reasons (such as shame, fear of getting in trouble, and mistrust of adults), but if you provide a safe space you may be able to get them to disclose more than you thought. 

  2. Be aware of your teen’s online activity. Physical harm is not the only trouble facing teens in intimate relationships. Even when teens are safely at home, they are connected to a whole world through social media, games, and messages. Teens can be easily subjected to cyberstalking, non-consensual distribution of intimate images, and other technology-facilitated harms. Use resources to help, and talk to your teen about online safety.

  3. Rely on available resources. You don’t have to fight this battle alone. It can be scary when you suspect that someone you care about is experiencing dating abuse, but there are professionals, services, and resources available to help. VINE is a helpful resource to use to stay informed and get connected to life-saving services through the Service Provider Directory. 

  4. Talk to your teen. One of the easiest and most effective ways to protect teens from dating violence is to talk to them about it. Teens need to be able to identify what is normal and what is not in relationships. Instead of a lecture, try to have casual conversations: Point out media portrayals of unhealthy and healthy relationships seen on T.V. or heard through music, then talk through what a similar situation might look like in your teen’s life. Asking them about what is going on in their lives and with their friends may be the best way to get a peek into their world. Beyond that, simply telling them that they are loved and valued will make a huge difference in helping them understand what they deserve in a relationship.

Stopping Teen Violence Now Can Lead to Huge Wins Later

Teens don’t have the resources that adults do to escape a dangerous relationship, and it is common for teens to be heavily influenced by their peers. Fear of consequences, pressure from friends, and not knowing where to turn is why this month to highlight teen dating violence is so important. Teens are getting hurt in intimate relationships, and it is common. If we work together now to stop dating violence in young people, imagine how that could positively influence the occurrences of domestic violence as this new generation grows.

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