February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month
Happily ever after—or not? It’s easy for our teens to become enamored with an idea that’s been told over and over again during story time and Disney movies for most of their childhood. What isn’t so easy for them, is to recognize that an unhealthy relationship may not quite be the puppy love story they believe. Teen dating violence and the shadows of mental health illness linger among victims as well as abusers.
Many types of abuse
Teen dating violence involves several types of abuse ranging from physical, emotional/psychological or even sexual. It can be delivered to the victim ever so subtly in the form of bullying, humiliation and jealousy, or it can be visibly obvious on their body or through their behaviors. Sadly, abusive relationships among teens is prevalent, occurring in 1 in 10 teens by way of physical or sexual violence. Even more frequent are the moments of verbal or emotional abuse. In other words, there’s a good chance your teen may have friends involved in teen dating violence or worse, be in an abusive relationship themselves.
Such violence, regardless of the degree of severity, negatively impacts overall mental health. When intimacy is confused with violent or abusive behavior, the seed of abuse and mental illness has likely been planted within the victim and most likely the abuser. The cycle will continue unless the problem is recognized and those negative seeds of intimacy are addressed. Ideally, prevention of teen dating violence is the first step, particularly by dealing with underlying mental health issues.
Why does it happen?
There are factors in a potential abuser’s behavioral patterns that can increase the likelihood of teen dating violence which include depression, anxiety and other trauma symptoms. Instances of aggression towards others, the use of drugs or alcohol and being sexually active at a young age are also among those circumstances. Parents and peers involved in relationship violence also influence the probability of teen dating violence. And so, this continuous cycle creeps into its surroundings until the recognition and desire to evolve from it arises.
Some of the very same factors affect a potential victim’s risk of getting caught up in teen dating violence, shining light on the need to address depression, anxiety and trauma issues early on before intimate abuse degrades mental health further. If you see any of the signs of mental health illness (such as anxiety or depression) in your children, there are resources and steps you can take to help them evolve from a state of mind vulnerable to teen dating violence.
What can I do as a parent?
Proactively approaching the situation can steer a potential bad situation from ever happening at all. The most effective tool you have in this situation is communication! Next important step is to provide your teen with a safe place to talk with you. It doesn’t happen over night but it will happen if you’re consistent and patient. Finally, work on empowering your child or teen with problem solving skills. Even though you’re the parent and can “demand” your teen stop seeing someone who is abusive, the reality is unless your teen understands why they are in an unhealthy relationship the possibility of them continuing to engage in those behaviors and relationships are very likely. Information is key!!
With technology being so prevalent within our culture, many teens experience dating violence through their social media and electronic devices. Again, talk with your teen. When my kids were teens, I advised them that my job was to protect them and if I had a suspicion or concern regarding their electronics and/or social media that I would randomly ask to see their device content. Many might think this is an invasion of privacy, however, if you have the conversation and are forthright with that message then teens know what to expect and will respect the honest between you.
Last but not least…
At the core of this social problem is the quality of mental health among individuals and their families. It’s important to take a deep breath as a parent and know there are resources within reach to address concerns within your teen’s psyche, or even be proactive about maintaining balance. School counselors, social workers, and online education are all support reserves waiting to be tapped to ease the pressures of effective parenting. Learn more!! You’ll become empowered by educating yourself and asking for help!