It may be hard to think of your teen in an intimate relationship, much less an abusive one.
Yet, one in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence.
Even among middle school students ages 11-14, nearly one in six, or 15 percent, report being a victim of physical dating violence.
It’s true, our kids are in dating relationships that are not safe or healthy. Now more than ever, our youth need to learn to navigate relationships, among their peers and in dating relationships.
Parents: Start having conversations with your children about healthy relationships before they start dating. Middle school-aged children are at a pivotal point, one at which peer relationships become increasingly important and impactful. Preteens are working to navigate this especially challenging time, where they are seeking independence and turning to their peers for support. Those peers they confide in may not necessarily have the correct information or their own tools to effectively work through good communication styles or healthy boundaries.
Start by having conversations with your middle schooler about what it means to be a good friend. By helping your child and young teen learn to be a good friend, you’ll be helping develop healthy relationships now and in the future. Have your child define what a good friendship is, what they like in a friendship and how to handle conflict with a friend. Also, model good friendships. Be sure you’re being a good friend to others so your child will see in action what friendships are like. And finally, the foundation of good friendships and healthy relationships is respect. Encourage your child to treat people the way she or he would like to be treated.
As your young teen starts exploring dating, start talking more specifically about what healthy relationships should be like, building off your conversations on how to be a good friend. Allow your teen to articulate their values, what they seek in a girlfriend or boyfriend, and what expectations they have regarding what makes a good dating partner. Make sure to not correct their “wrong” expectations; instead, discuss them and revert back to how they would like to be treated and why certain expectations are or are not contributing to a healthy, fun, respectful relationship.
While it might seem that you’re a thorn in your kid’s side, keep the conversation going — they really are listening, even when they’re rolling their eyes at you!
ACVAP believes all people have the right to live free from violence. Learning how to navigate relationships is a life-long process, so start early and talk often with your child, regardless of their age.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you or someone you know needs more information or support, or simply wants to learn more, call 264-9075. All calls are free and confidential, 24 hours a day.