The fact is that children are dating—or becoming interested in dating—at an earlier age than when we were teens. It’s not uncommon for boys and girls to have “dated” a half dozen partners before they enter high school. I believe that the media and liberal, unsupervised Internet use is largely to blame for this phenomenon, but nevertheless, it is a fact of our children’s lives. As parents, we want to be certain in the messages we give them, both in our speech and in our actions.
Because of the reasons I’ve just mentioned, unhealthy, abusive teen dating relationships have reached epidemic proportions. The national statistic is that one in four girls--and one in six boys—will be the target of an abusive relationship. As a therapist and national speaker on the subject, I have found that as shocking as that statistic may be, it is actually woefully understated. Most people consider only physical abuse to be abusive, so the much more common areas of abuse—verbal and emotional abuse—are not included in the stat. I believe that about half of teenage boys and girls will become involved in this type of dangerous relationship before high school graduation.
As a parent, it is important for you to understand and recognize important warning signs of an abusive relationship so that you can help your child quickly:
Before my child met their partner, s/he had more friends than he/she does now.
S/he used to be more outgoing and involved with family, friends, school activities, and/or place of worship.
S/he frequently cries or is very sad.
If the partner pages or calls my child, s/he has to get back to him/her right away.
There is a desperation or urgency about the relationship.
S/he is jealous if my child looks at or speaks casually with a friend of the opposite sex.
S/he makes excuses for the partner’s behavior or takes the blame.
The partner calls my child demeaning names, then laughs and says s/he is only kidding.
The partner needs to know where my child is, who s/he’s with, and what s/he’s doing at all times.
My child frequently has to explain him/herself to the partner or often says s/he’s sorry.
The partner has a “tragic” home life and my child feels a need to help for fix it.
Do not wait until you see bruises or other physical signs of abuse on your child. An abusive relationship often does not get to this level, however verbal and emotional abuse are just as—if not more—dangerous.
Talk to your children about love as a behavior, rather than a feeling and encourage them to judge their friends and potential boy or girlfriends solely on the behavior they see. Teenagers lead with their hearts, not their heads, and this way of thinking invites clear thinking. Talk with them about the media influences they see—such as music videos on MTV and music lyrics—and the ways in which they are demeaning to relationships and encourage unhealthy partnerships as well as violence as an acceptable means of resolving conflicts.
With your help, your children can begin to develop healthy relationship patterns that will last them a lifetime.
Article by Dr. Jill Murray
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