While it's certainly not something you wish on your teen, it does happen, even to that son or daughter you still think of as a little child, too young to be interested in dating or making out (much less sex).
According to the CDC, teen dating violence is both widespread and has serious long-term and short-term effects.
"The nature of dating violence can be physical, emotional or sexual, and includes stalking," according to the CDC. "Unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime. Teens who are victims in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college and throughout their lifetimes."
The CDC's 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that nearly 12 percent of high school females reported physical violence and nearly 16 percent reported sexual violence from a dating partner in the 12 months before they were surveyed. And the problem is not restricted to girls or even heterosexual couples, with more than 7 percent of high school males reporting physical violence and about 5 percent reporting sexual violence from a dating partner in the same report.
It's easy for a teen to miss the warning signs, according to Shelly Taylor Page, a law professor at Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law who teaches a class on domestic violence law.
"They're possessive, demanding of your time, alienating you from your other friends," Page told the Knoxville Mercury. "If I'm a young girl—let's say I'm in the 10th grade, new to relationships. Some signs to look for that this person might be abusive would be a guy who is always asking, 'Who are you texting?' Saying, 'Let me see your phone, let me see your Facebook friends. You have to sit with me at lunchtime.'"
He might also critique what his dating partner wears. "'Why are you wearing those tight jeans, who are you trying to impress?'," Page expanded. "Perhaps he's physically aggressive—pinching, yanking, pulling. Those are all little things that turn into bigger things."
Often, the abuse happens in secret, in a bubble, "Many teens do not report it because they are afraid to tell friends and family," the CDC noted.
That fear means that parents must have heightened awareness of possible indicators that a teen could be involved in a violent or verbally or emotionally abusive relationship.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, these are seven signs your teen might be experiencing abuse:
- Your child's intimate partner is extremely jealous or possessive to the point where your child stops spending time with other friends and family. If someone questions your child about this, the response might be something like, "She thinks my friends don't like her, so she doesn't like spending time around them," or "She thinks they're a bad influence on me and she's just trying to help."
- You see unexplained marks or bruises on your child.
- You notice your son or daughter is depressed or anxious.
- Your child stops participating in extracurriculars or other interests like gaming or even shopping.
- Your child begins to dress differently. One example: he or she wears loose clothing because the partner doesn't like him/her to "show off" his/her body or attract someone else's attention.
- Your child worries when he or she can't text or call the partner back immediately, saying that the partner might get upset.
- Your child expresses fear about the way his or her partner might react in a given situation.
"Staying tuned in to your teen takes patience, love, and understanding – plus a little bit of effort," the NDVH noted. "If you are concerned about any of your teen's relationships, reach out and get them talking as soon as possible. There are real ways you can help."
Teens and parents can both get help from these strictly confidential resources:
"If someone feels afraid in their relationship, they should talk to their friends and family for advice and reach out to resources," Cameron Kinker, program engagement coordinator at The One Love Foundation, told TeenVogue. "Loveisrespect.org is great, many college campuses have counseling centers that are free to students, and a hotline can be helpful for anyone involved to learn what next steps are. If you ever feel afraid or unsafe, it is important that you reach out to a resource like Loveisrespect.org or a local shelter to create a safety plan."
Loveisrespect's phone: 866-331-9474
Text LOVEIS to 22522
A crisis text line also provides round-the-clock support for anyone in crisis. They can be reached by texting HOME to 741741.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
For more information on how to help someone in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, tap into some of the real-time resources from One Love like the Live Chat via LoveisRespect.org, or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 to get advice.
If your suspicions are on target.
Parents who have concluded their child probably is being abused or at least exhibits many of the warning signs must be aware that abuse is dangerous and can be life-threatening, according to the One Love Foundation.
To keep the conversation open and minimize the danger where possible, these are a few of the steps One Love Foundation recommended for parents who suspect their teen is in an abusive relationship:
Calmly start a conversation with your teen. "Start by calmly voicing your concern for them," OLF advised. "It is likely that they feel as though things are already chaotic enough in their life so to best help them, you will need to be a steady support with whom they can talk openly and peacefully. If you don't panic and do your best to make them feel safe, then it is pretty likely that they will continue to seek your advice."
Be supportive. Listen to them without forcing the conversation, reminding your child they are not alone and you only want to help.
Focus on the unhealthy behaviors in the relationship, not their partner, and don't rush to label the relationship as "abusive" or you'll get pushback.
Keep the conversation friendly, not preachy. Very few people in abusive relationships recognize themselves as victims and it's pretty likely that your child doesn't want to be viewed that way either, OLF noted.
Don't place the blame on them. "Help your teen or young adult to understand that the behaviors they are experiencing are not normal and that it is NOT their fault their partner is acting this way."
After the initial conversations, you may need several follow-ups. Next steps might include any of the following:
- Visiting your local domestic violence center or behavioral health center
- Talking to a school counselor
- Calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
Most importantly, if your teen or young adult child is planning to end things with their partner, you should create a safety plan with them because the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is post-breakup, OLF warned. And if there is any risk of danger, call the police.
"If your child is in immediate danger, either self-harm or harm inflicted by another person, you should alert authorities (i.e., school security or 911) right away," OLF advised. "Even if you think they will feel betrayed or angry with you for going to the police, saving someone's life is the most important thing. Relationship abuse can be fatal and you should not hesitate to take serious action if you think that anyone is at risk for physical or sexual harm."