One in 10 teenagers will experience some sort of abuse by a dating partner, according to the Children’s Safety Network. Negative short-term or long-term health issues can result from abusive relationships. Parents should be cognizant of warning signs in their teenagers’ relationships.
Dating violence manifests in many different forms, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Emotional abuse can be hard to recognize because it typically progresses gradually throughout the relationship. Emotional abuse can include intimidation, manipulation, intense jealousy, threats, controlling behavior, verbal assault and gaslighting. Physical abuse is any means of physical harm, including hitting, kicking or punching. Sexual abuse involves forcing a partner to engage in any type of sexual experience without consent.
“If the perpetrator is more interested in controlling you, then that is a big red flag,” said Debra Schneider, director of the Children’s Hospital Intervention and Prevention Services (CHIPS Center) at Children’s of Alabama.
Teens in an abusive relationship have an increased risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, antisocial behaviors, eating disorders, negative body image, sexually transmitted diseases, trust issues, emotional triggers, lying, stealing, cheating and lack of discernment when picking appropriate partners in adulthood.
“Open dialogue about physical and emotional boundaries in relationships should begin when children are young,” Schneider said. “Boundaries and respect are vital to pave the way toward healthy relationships in their teenage years. If parents are modeling a healthy relationship, that’s going to be what teens are used to and what they expect in their own relationships.”
Parents should be mindful of:
• Secrecy or withdrawal from friends and family
• Onset of anxiety and/or depression
• Physical findings (bruises, cuts, headaches, back pain)
• Only spending time with partner
• Feeling excessive guilt or shame
• Avoidance of school or social events with excuses that don’t seem to make any sense
If you observe any warning signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship in your teen, talk to them about it. It is important to start a conversation with your teen and listen to them. Try to understand and validate their feelings in this situation. Your show of support will increase their trust and your teen will be more comfortable sharing information with you. This open conversation will be crucial in educating your teen about what should be expected in a healthy and safe relationship. A teen who is being abused needs someone to hear and believe them and be reminded that abuse is never deserved.
The CHIPS Center has abuse prevention resources available. For more information, call 205-638-2751 or visit childrensal.org/CHIPS.
Other resources for you or your teen:
• National Dating Abuse Helpline – 1-866-331-9474 or loveisrespect.org to receive immediate, confidential assistance
• Birmingham Crisis Center – 205-323-7777
• Birmingham Rape Response – 205-323-7273
• RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network) – 1-800-656-4673
• If your teen is in immediate danger, call 911.