Tips for Parents
You may have heard your student talking about dating. Of course, parents want their child to experience happy, healthy dating experiences with others. While many relationships are positive and special, some, unfortunately, are not.
If you are concerned about the context of your student's relationships, your thoughts may be warranted. Recent statistics have shown that dating violence can take many forms, and that teens are not immune from abuse during casual or serious long-term relationships. While female teenagers report this problem more often, teen males do experience abuse in relationships as well.
Verbal and Emotional Abuse
Sometimes, in their inexperience, young daters find behaviors flattering in their partners, rather than worrying that they could be signs of potential abuse. Not allowing someone to spend time with friends, calling someone constantly to check in, and offering "advice" about hair, makeup or clothes are all behaviors that could be considered "cute," but in reality could mean much more. Verbally and emotionally abusive behaviors have become so commonplace among today's youth dating population that it is difficult to recognize when they have become problematic.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges for today's youth in recognizing dating violence is the confusion between the images of severe battering they see on TV and the actuality of what constitutes abuse. Verbal and emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and physical abuse are all forms of violence.
Some of the most common forms of verbal and emotional abuse are:
- Name calling
- Intimidating looks
- Use of cell phones and pagers to maintain constant contact
- Monopolizing someone's time
- Isolation from friends, family
- Making a woman feel insecure
- Saying "I love you" too soon
- Making threats
- Humiliating someone in public
Some of the most common forms of sexual abuse are:
- Unwanted touching and kissing
- Statutory rape
Some of the most common forms of physical abuse are:
- Hitting, beating and pushing
- Roughhousing/play wrestling
What You Can Do
If you are concerned about your student, or your student expresses concern to you about a friend, trust your instincts. You can play a pivotal role in helping your student identify the characteristics of healthy versus unhealthy relationships. This is perhaps the most proactive action you can take.
Since you know your student well, you will be able to sense whether a direct or indirect approach will be best in talking about this tough topic. During your conversation, you might find the following helpful:
- Try to dialogue, rather than interrogate
- Ask open-ended questions
Reflect back on what you think you are hearing
- Listen non-judgmentally
- Try to refrain from demonstrating negative body language
- Offer resources, on campus and beyond, that could be helpful (i.e. residence life, wellness staff, the counseling center, an advisor or coach, campus security, campus ministry/interfaith center staff, hotlines, etc.)
Overall, remember that if your student opens up to you about issues he/she is experiencing or witnessing among peers, it's because your opinion is trusted. If necessary, contact campus security or dean of students to garner support. If, at any time, your student feels unsafe, he/she can always file a report with campus police.
- But I Love Him by Dr. Jill Murray, HarperCollins Publishers, 2000
- National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center at www.safeyouth.org.
Dr. Jill Murray, author of But I Love Him, suggests that these factors contribute to teen dating violence:
- the need for peer approval
- gender-role expectations
- lack of experience in relationships
- little contact with adult resources
- less access to societal resources like medical attention and shelters
- barriers to gaining legal assistance
- substance abuse
How frequently does dating violence occur?
According to the "Love Is Not Abuse" organization, this is a difficult statistic to gather. More often than not, these statistics underestimate the reality of the problem. One 2005 national survey found that:
- Nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend had threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a break-up.
- 13% of teenage girls who said they have been in a relationship report being physically hurt or hit.
- More than 1 in 4 teenage girls in a relationship (26%) report enduring repeated verbal abuse.
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