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verbal abuse

Health and Safety

Protecting Your Teen from Dating Violence

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 potential warning signs in their teenage kids’ relationships to help prevent abuse.

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. Gaslighting is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “presenting false information to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory and perception.” 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.

The director of the Children’s Hospital Intervention and Prevention Services (CHIPS Center) at Children’s of Alabama, Debra Schneider, is an expert on teen dating violence (TDV). “If the perpetrator is more interested in controlling you,” Schneider said, “then that is a big red flag.”

The victim in an abusive relationship is likely to experience adverse health issues during the relationship or develop health issues later on from the traumatic experience. If the relationship is physically violent, long-term injuries or even death could result. 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. 

In order to protect their children from teen dating violence, parents should know what to be aware of when their child is in a relationship.

Warning signs 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

Schneider wants parents to know how they can reduce the occurrence of TDV and protect their teens.

“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.”

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 child/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.

Resources you or your teen can call if they are in an abusive relationship:

  • National Dating Abuse Helpline – call 1-866-331-9474 or log on to interactive website loveisrespect.org to receive immediate, confidential assistance
  • Birmingham Crisis Center – call 205-323-7777
  • Birmingham Rape Response – call 205-323-7273
  • CHIPS Center (Children’s Hospital Intervention and Prevention Services) – call 205-638-2751
  • RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network) – call 1-800-656-4673
  • If your teen is in immediate danger, call 911