Adolescence is a significant period in every young person's life. The teen years are a time of physical, cognitive and emotional growth, and also a time of increased independence and self-discovery. This period can be filled with excitement as teens make new friends, consider their options for the future and begin their transition into adulthood. Despite all this growth and change, it's important to remember that they are still kids...kids who often face what many would consider to be adult challenges.
So what happens when you find out your teen is in an abusive relationship? Abuse of any kind is unacceptable. Teen dating violence is a serious issue that often occurs right in front of our noses, although not always within our awareness. Every year in the United States, approximately 1.5 million high school students are victims of abuse at the hands of the person they're dating. Abuse can be emotional, physical or sexual. It's a huge problem and unfortunately one not many are prepared for. Research shows that despite the high incidence, the majority of parents never speak to their kids about domestic violence. According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, teen dating violence is defined as, "a pattern of abuse or threat of abuse against teenaged dating partners, occurring in different forms, including verbal, emotional, physical, sexual and digital." So what can you do to help protect the young ones you love?
1. Talk to your kids. Help them understand what a healthy relationship looks like and encourage them to talk about their dating experiences. Let them know you will listen and support them without judgement. If you do learn that your teen is being abused, remember it is NEVER their fault.
2. Look for warning signs. You might see multiple injuries, decreased academic performance, increased isolation, a change in mood or lack of interest in hobbies or other activities the teen used to enjoy.
3. If you do suspect abuse, don't ignore it. Help the teen get connected to the appropriate resources. SAFETY FIRST! Do what you can to help the teen get out of the abusive relationship. After you've addressed physical safety, help the teen get connected to a counselor or other resources.
4. Spread awareness. Speak to your child's school or local community centers about different ways to educate your community about this problem. Help them learn about what teen dating violence is, what it looks like, and what they can do if they ever learn that somebody they know is being abused.
National Dating Abuse Helpline - This is a 24-hour hotline that provides web-based and telephone resources to teens experiencing dating abuse. Call 1-866-331-9474 or text "loveis" to 22522.
Break the Cycle - This is a national nonprofit organization that strives to educate teens and young adults about dating and domestic violence.
Love is Respect - This campaign is a collaboration between Break the Cycle and the National Dating Abuse Helpline. It is a campaign that provides resources for parents, a digital abuse curriculum and tips for engaging men and boys.
National Domestic Violence Hotline - This is a nonprofit organization that provides crisis intervention, information, and referral to victims of domestic violence, perpetrators, friends and families. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
National Centers for Victims of Crimes (NCVC) - NCVC can help find local victim services counselors for young people in trouble. Call 1-800-FYI-CALL (1-800-394-2255).