Although teen violence and dating abuse awareness don’t get as much recognition as some of the other common pitfalls of adolescence, it is alarmingly prevalent. In fact, it is estimated that around 33% of high school students will experience some form of abuse or violence from their significant other before leaving high school. 1 in 3 teenagers report knowing someone who had been punched, hit, slapped, choked or otherwise physically hurt by their dating partner. Approximately 1 in 5 teen girls claimed that a boyfriend had threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a break-up. These numbers bring to light the growing problem of teen violence, as does the estimated rate of disclosure. While 73% of teens claimed that they would turn to a friend for help in the event of a violent relationship, only 33% who had either been in or known about one actually told anyone.
There are many reasons why teens keep violence or abuse to themselves. Shame, self-blame, embarrassment and fear are fairly common reasons for teens to keep silent. They may also be afraid that parents or authority figures will make them break up, blame them for being weak, create new rules and take away privileges. Many teens are inexperienced enough to be unaware that what they are experiencing is not healthy or normal. It is for these reasons, among others, that parents should be just as watchful for the signs of teen violence as they are for substance abuse or mood disorders. While teen violence can impact both boys and girls, it is statistically females who are more at risk.
- Physical Injury – While not every bump or bruise needs to be remarked upon, pay attention if your teen has frequent major or minor injuries or is claiming to be more “accident prone” than usual.
- Isolation – Has your teen become less social than she used to be? Does she hesitate to go out with friends or participate in activities without her boyfriend? Abusers often try to isolate their victims in order to consolidate control in the relationship.
- Poor School Performance – Skipping classes, failing grades or dropping out of school activities are all warning signs that there may be something going on in your teen’s life that needs investigating.
- Behavioral Changes – Any changes in eating or sleeping habits can be attributed to emotional turmoil of some kind. Other behavior, such as avoiding eye contact or becoming secretive or depressed can also be indicative of abuse. On the other end, it can also manifest through emotional outbursts or acting out.
- Control Issues – Does your teen’s boyfriend constantly offer “advice” regarding clothing, weight, hair, friends and extracurricular activities? Does she feel compelled to follow his instructions and fearful if she can’t? Does he call or text constantly to know where she is, who she is with and what they are doing? Abusers often attempt to control every aspect of their victim’s life.
If you suspect that your teen is involved in a violent relationship, you should open the lines of communication as much as possible. Listen to your teen and acknowledge that it is a scary situation and your concern is for her safety. Educate her on the aspects of a healthy relationship as well as what is not acceptable behavior. Abuse of any kind is emotionally damaging and it is important that your teen sees you as an ally and not a judge if you are to help her change her situation.