No one wants to see their children hurt. Unfortunately, during teen and early adult years, dating can be confusing, leading to an unhealthy or abusive relationship.
Teens can easily view teasing and condescending pet names, as normal aspects of a relationship. They may also think stalking behaviors, such as non-stop text messaging and phone calls, are an indication their dating partner is attentive and loves them.
They can mistake intensity, which is exciting and new, for passionate love. Dating violence can sneak up on them, and once they fall in love, they are quick to make excuses for a partner’s insensitive, abusive behavior and continue to tolerate it.
Young adults and teens who’ve enjoyed the excitement, sense of belonging and increased relationship status are reluctant to trade it in for the sadness, heartache and anger of a potential break-up.
Parents Can Help
Parents can help by talking casually with their children prior to dating. Talks can focus on qualities their child should look for in a partner, and how to identify these early during interactions.
Rather than a one-time discussion, this needs to be an ongoing conversation with children. Using hypothetical scenarios works well with children and tweens, as children these ages usually enjoy imagining their future lives, including their future partners.
Most importantly, parents need to model respectful behavior in their own relationships so their children can see this day-to-day. This blueprint of what a relationship is transfers to their children. Modeling can include allowing children to witness parents working through some basic disagreements civilly.
When done effectively, this adds skills to the child’s template.
Know the Signs of Abuse
Even with these protective actions, parents need to know their teen may still encounter dating violence. Some behaviors indicating violence include:
- the teen’s dating partner calls them names or puts them down in front of others
- the partner acts extremely jealous, even of simple attention by others
- the partner tries to isolate their teen from family and friends (including the parents)
- the partner tries to control their teen by checking up on them constantly and demanding to know what they’re doing and who they’re with
- a teen hides bruises or other injuries with long sleeved shirts, turtlenecks and sunglasses
- changes in their teen’s behaviors, moods and friends.
Dating violence can include physical, psychological, emotional and sexual abuse, as well as stalking. Abuse can also occur electronically, such as repeated texting and posting sexual pictures online. Social media can be used to manipulate, harass and emotionally abuse a partner.
Snapchat is predominantly used by teens and young adults. Snapchats’ temporary messaging disappears rapidly making it particularly difficult to respond to effectively.
Sometimes, parents can feel helpless to intervene, but it is important for the parent to continue to communicate their support to their teen.
Teens may say, “I know what I’m doing! Leave me alone!” Since teens want to feel competent in this area, they may be very reluctant to admit they messed up with their partner choice, even when they are in danger. Teens also tend to have the mindset of invincibility and believe bad things happen to others, but not them.
While such beliefs are normal in adolescence, when it comes to teen dating violence, they can create a barrier to effective intervention.
Providing information indirectly and subtly, such as leaving brochures around the home with dating abuse indicators listed, can hit home. Of course, parents want to be their children’s primary resource, authority and the one they consult first, but that may not always be possible. Rather than lose the opportunity for some influence, it may be better to adjust the approach.
Positive statements are generally well-received by teens. Pointing out how kind, caring and loving the teen is -and how they are worthy of love in return, usually hits the mark.
Use open ended questions, ones that can’t be answered with only a yes or no, to ask your teen what qualities they like in their new dating partner. This can then naturally lead the teen to bring up their partner’s qualities they dislike or are threatening.
Be careful not to jump in to solve their minor level problems, talk to your teens about how they plan to handle it instead. This can leave the door to communication open, so if the teen finds things are beyond their own ability to handle, they know their parent is waiting to assist non-judgmentally.
Parents need to know a teen under the age of 18-years old cannot obtain a legal protective order, commonly known as a restraining order, without the parent’s involvement and help. Few parents understand the full ramifications of the legal process involved. Seeking legal assistance may be in order and parents will need to consult with their local law enforcement.
There are times when a child or teen is under serious threat of violence and a parent may have to seek a protective order against their wishes, but on their behalf. It is a parent’s responsibility to keep their child safe, but it is important to do this in as safe and legal a manner as possible.
Once a protective order is obtained, an adult in the home must be willing to call the police to enforce the protective order. Additionally, on base, the Family Advocacy Program’s Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate can assist parents with information about the legal process for protective orders. They do not work directly with underage clients, but can support the parents. The phone number for the Family Advocacy Program is 719-556-8943. The emergency phone number for the DAVA is 719- 556-6625.
Resources available for teen and young adult dating violence include
The Schriever Air Force Base and Peterson AFB Military & Family Life Counselors; they can be reached through each base’s Airmen and Family Readiness Center or through the base websites. Schriever members can also call 567-HELP. MFLCs are working at many of the local schools with high numbers of military children, so they may be contacted through the child/teens schools as well.
National Dating Abuse Helpline and Love is Respect: 1-866-331-9494 or text 77054 or www.loveisrespect.org
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
National Sexual Violence Resource Center: www.nsvrc.org
Contact a Military OneSource consultant if you’re not sure how to talk to your parents about what’s happening at 1-800-342-9647.
Create a safety plan with the help of the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799- SAFE).