Dating is one right of passage that many teens look forward to, though it’s not always as carefree as it might seem. On occasion, teens may even be the subject of abuse by their boyfriend or girlfriend. Physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse affects hundreds of teens every year. With the current rates of teen dating violence affecting up to fifty percent of teens, the problem affects individuals regardless of gender, race, age or socioeconomic status. Preventing this type of violence can be tricky, but there are a number of things that parents and friends can do to help prevent dating violence:
- Consider Self-Esteem: Teens with low self esteem may be more likely to encounter dating abuse, and to put up with it instead of fighting back. Teens should be able to explain how they feel that they should be treated, and how they deserve to be treated. Parents should discuss these standards with teens to ensure that teens have a boundaries for what they will and won’t put up with.
- Note The Warning Signs: Dating abuse in teenage relationships often starts off slowly, escalating through verbal and emotional abuse to physical abuse. If you notice sudden weight loss, or bruises and other injuries that seem unexplainable, or, if the teen seems to make excuses for his/her partner’s actions, you may begin to suspect abuse is occurring. Other warning signs are emotional rather than physical, including a depressed or withdrawn personality, particularly if they were outgoing and cheerful before the relationship began.
- Establish a Relationship: Establish a relationship of trust with the teen, and also with their partner. Parents should get to know whom their teen is dating. Although parents may find it difficult to dictate who a teen spends time with, it is good to have a friendship or relationship (however cursory) with a teen’s friends and/or partner. Teens who trust their parents are more likely to come to them for advice when dealing with dating problems.
- Control Cell Phone and Computer Usage: Sadly, computers and cell phones add an additional threat of abuse. Harassment is only one danger related to electronic devices. Current studies show that one in five teen girls and one in ten younger teen girls (ages 13 to 16) have electronically sent or posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves. Of those young girls, up to twelve percent reported that they felt they were “pressured” to do so. If teens have established their boundaries and have high self-esteem they may be less likely to engage in these behaviors.
- Provide the Tools to Stop Abuse. It’s generally advisable for parents to talk to teens about the dangers of violence prior to teens dating, and to know the various organizations which exist to assist teens who have encountered dating abuse and their families. Consider providing your teenager with a personal alarm,pepper spray, or another self defense device so that they can escape a violent situation, whether at the hands of a date or a random stranger encountered in a parking lot.
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