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With the amount of information, videos, photos and statistics available at the swipe of a smart phone or the touch of a tablet, it’s easier than ever for teens to access nearly anything online. They probably aren’t Googling how to have a healthy relationship or how to recognize the signs of an abusive one, though. With nearly 1.5 million high school students experiencing dating violence each year, it’s a serious problem that isn’t going away. Dating violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner. It can be difficult to tell when a behavior crosses from healthy to unhealthy, so talking early to teens about recognizing the signs – whether they’re in the relationship or they recognize it among friends and peers – is important.
To get the conversation started, be ready to have a dialogue, not a lecture. Encouraging open and honest discussion is key to establishing trust and support for what may be a difficult conversation. It’s important to establish that abuse affects all types of relationships, not just long-term or committed ones. Even casual relationships can be abusive. Give examples of healthy relationships in your life, or from television, books or movies. Ask them questions: “Do you know the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one?”
If your teen is in a relationship, having open communication about the relationship is key. A healthy relationship is one where both partners have an equal voice and can verbalize how they feel about their relationship, how to spend time together, and setting boundaries in regards to their physical and emotional relationship.
Stress that healthy relationships should never make them feel pressured, unsafe or harmed. Remember, abuse does not have to be physical: it can be verbal, emotional, and mental. Controlling behaviors (like who to hang out with and how to act) and feeling pressured into doing something that makes them uncomfortable are just a few examples of how a relationship can be unhealthy without being physically abusive.
There are several warning signs and behaviors that may indicate abuse. Some of the most common include the teen becoming anxious or depressed, or if he or she stops participating in activities or spending time with family. The teen may dress differently or have unexplained marks or bruises. If you notice the teen’s partner is jealous or possessive, or calls, texts and emails excessively or you notice abusive behavior from your teen’s partner to animals or other individuals, it could also be a red flag. Some of the warning signs you may notice in a teen involved in an unhealthy or abusive relationships include their partner isolating him or her from friends and family; constantly putting him or her down; checking his or her cell phone without permission; and becoming possessive and telling his or her partner what to do. Keep in mind that these are just a few of many warning signs of an abusive relationship, and you should read up on recognizing them before having the conversation.
If you or someone you know has a question about a relationship, healthy or unhealthy, please call the Safe Nest confidential hotline. Safe Nest offers confidential adolescent counseling services.