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Talking to Teens about Dating Violence


Generally, when we think of February, we think of Valentine's Day. Hearts and cupids and boxes of chocolates and happy feelings of the ones we love. Valentine's Day is a perfect reason to focus on healthy relationships, and when better to start the discussion than when we prepare to celebrate love?

In Arkansas, around 14% of teens experienced violence in dating relationships in 2013. Fourteen percent. One child in 7 was hit, yelled at, or otherwise violated by a person with whom they shared a dating relationship. Dating relationships, especially teen dating relationships, are often characterized as fleeting, hormone-fueled obesessions; however, negative experiences in these relationships can cause lasting impact such as increased risk of substance use, suicide, self-harm, and other risky behaviors.  

Often, when attempting to engage a teen in conversation, a parent might feel as though their teen is not listening; however, talking to teens, even when it seems like they aren’t listening, is an important part of maintaining a healthy relationship. Although it is certainly an uncomfortable topic to discuss, teen dating violence is something that teens need to be aware of and to have tools to handle. Learning what #loveis and what it isn't. 

One way in which parents and friends of teens can help teens understand what #loveis is by discussing and modeling what healthy relationships look like. If a child grows up around healthy relationships, they will be less likely to remain in unhealthy ones. Showing love for and listening to your relationship partner shows them, and the people around you, that you value them. Alternately, engaging in unhealthy relationships where partners are not equal and are not treated respectfully teaches children and teens that disrespectful behavior is a normal part of relationships. 

Another influential factor is parental monitoring. Although it may seem like you are invading their privacy, for a parent, #loveis making sure you know who your teen is with, meeting her/his friends, and establishing clear expectations regarding time spent away from home. This type of monitoring provides a layer of protection for your teen. Asking questions like, "Who are you texting?" or "Who did you hang out with at school today?" opens lines of communication that are necessary for a secure parent/child relationship. Teens who do not feel comfortable telling you who they are talking to will be unlikely to feel comfortable coming to you for help in a scary time. If your teen doesn't answer, don't force the issue, but do let them know why you want to know. "I just want to know who you're so excited to talk to." 

Teaching your child to set boundaries by modeling this skill and giving her/him specific tools to do it themselves is a great way to maintain healthy relationships and protect against unhealthy ones. Setting physical, emotional, and digital boundaries helps partners in a relationship understand that showing respect for one another's boundaries indicates respect for my partner, and violating those boundaries is a sign of disrespect. 

  • Clear physical boundaries indicate a level of self-respect and respect for a partner that you will not engage in physical intimacy beyond a level that is agreed upon by both partners, and one partner will not attempt to pressure or force the other to move beyond those boudaries.
  • Clear emotional boundaries show respect for one another's feelings, time, needs, and goals. Showing jealousy or anger when one partner desires time away is disrespectful and violates those emotional boundaries. In a healthy relationship, partners manage emotions and respect one another as separate people. 
  • Clear digital boundaries may seem less obvious, especially to parents, but they are necessary in our age of constant contact. Examples of digital boundaries include not texting or chatting during meal times with family or not taking calls after 10pm. Another may be avoiding sexting or sending inappropriate photos. 

Finally, educating your teen about what #loveis and watching for signs of unhealthy or abusive relationships is key.  These signs may include:

  • Excessive jealousy
  • Explosive temper
  • Constant checking in (texting, calling, stopping by, etc.) or demanding that you check in with them
  • You "worry what they might do" or get anxious if you cannot respond to a message quickly
  • Attempts to isolate you from your friends or family
  • Controlling of the relationship
  • Blames you for problems, especially within the relationship
  • Attemps to force you to violate your boundaries
  • Won't "let you" break up with them
  • Threatens to harm themselves or others if you break up with them

Although it is an uncomfortable topic, and it is one that parents often feel is intuitive or unnecessary to discuss ("My child would never be in an abusive relationship!"), it is vitally important to give teens the tools to recognize healthy relationships for themselves and their friends. 

There are some excellent resources available to help teens and parents of teens talk about healthy, respectful relationships.

CDC Teen Dating Violence Prevention

Arkansas Department of Education


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). 1991-2013 High School Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System data. Retrieved August 28, 2014, from

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