by Jaclyn Youhana Garver
Tasha Sare was curious about the current statistics around teen dating violence, so she looked at some reputable websites and studies. One finding said one in three teens will experience dating violence. Another said one in four. Another, one in seven.
Dating violence is both underreported and, seemingly, more prevalent. However, it’s not that there’s more dating violence today.
“Instead, thanks to the Internet, there are more ways to inflict abuse than there were 20 years ago,” says Sare, the youth coordinator at the Center for Nonviolence in Fort Wayne. With reliable statistics so tough to find, it can feel overwhelming to know if a teen needs help. What are the warning signs of dating violence? How can a parent help?
Know how to ID dating violence
One of the biggest red flags of dating violence is jealousy. This can come across in a number of ways: You’re cheating on me … You can’t hang out with your friends or family… Stay with me instead … Let me check your phone to see who you’re texting …
“Jealousy can extend to isolation, invasion of privacy and control,” says Maria Hogle, a victim advocate and facilitator at the Center for Nonviolence.
But many not only miss jealous as a warning sign—they don’t think it is one.
“Films ranging from romantic comedies to Disney movies set up jealousy as a positive thing,” Sare says. They boast the message, “If somebody’s jealous, it means that they care about you. It means that they love you.”
“To break that down and have a real relationship with a teenager, especially young women, those are some of the most difficult conversations I can remember having over my tenure at the center because they become so defensive because they don’t want to let go of that idealized fantasy that jealousy equals love,” Sare says.
How parents can help
“It’s a tightrope balance for parents between being supportive and being aware of the signs that a teen may be experiencing dating violence,” Sare says. Seeing a teen disconnect might be expected, but that will only worsen if a parent, for example, forces a teen to stop seeing a romantic partner.
Using a resource like the Center for Nonviolence can help, in part because it can be easier for teens to listen to and hear someone who is not a loved one, someone they know isn’t reacting personally but simply passing along information.
The information is more likely to stick if the teenager is on board.
“When I’ve talked to teens, those who come of their own accord and want to get some help are more receptive about talking about boundaries and talking about what they would want in a healthy relationship, versus those who are forced by their parents,” Hogle says,
She suggests that parents be open—and that they accept the facts. More than 80% of parents say their teenagers are not dating. If a teenager says, “I’m dating someone,” it’s important for parents to believe them.
She also says that it’s OK not to have all the answers. It’s not up to a parent or loved one to fix a situation alone.
“Parents can also seek support and understanding,” Hogle says. “(They can) read up on stuff, do their own research, reach out to other organizations.”
Center for Nonviolence, centerfornv.org