Teenage years are full of exploration and growth. One area that we see this exploration in, specifically, is teenagers’ social lives. Teenagers may be becoming interested in pursuing romantic relationships. They may start navigating the exciting world of dating. However, with dating comes the responsibility of teaching teens the importance of autonomy, boundaries, and consent. As parents, you want the best for your children. At the very least, you wish for your children to be in respectful and loving relationships. Abusive partners do anything but love and respect your teen.
When we hear the word “violence” or “abuse”, our minds often jump right to physical violence.
Maybe we think of examples of adults we know who have been in physically violent relationships with a domestic partner. But the truth is that violence and abuse are much more complex. It can affect teenagers in romantic relationships at rates that might seem staggering to most.
It can be difficult for adults and teens alike to wrap their heads around dating abuse. As parents, you might never want to believe that this could happen to your child. However, research suggests that dating abuse is as pervasive as 1 in 3. It’s important to learn and recognize the red flags of abusive relationships to best protect your teen.
A Teen Counselor Explains Teen Dating Abuse
Dating abuse refers to behavioral patterns one partner might use to exert power and control over another partner. Physical abuse can be a component, but there is so much more to it. As such, dating violence here refers to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse by an intimate partner. Intimacy is about the feeling of being emotionally close and connected with another individual. Though it may involve sex, intimacy does not necessarily mean that your teen is sexually active. Intimate relationships can be straight or gay, serious or casual, long-term or short-term, monogamous or open.
As mentioned above, 1 in 3 teenagers will experience dating abuse before reaching adulthood.
More than 1 in 10 high schoolers reported experiencing physical aggression from a dating partner. Of this astonishing number, many reported that they did not know how or what to do after it happened.
In an ever-changing world, one thing stays constant: We all deserve to be treated with respect. Especially in our romantic relationships. No one deserves to be mistreated, either online or IRL. The following warning signs are indicative of behaviors in relationships that are not respectful, loving, supportive, or healthy. These are great to review with your teen.
Physical abuse is defined as the intentional, unwanted contact with your body or something close to your body and/or intentional behavior that causes harm, disability, or even death.
- Examples include:
- Throwing things at a partner
- Scratching, biting, hair pulling
- Threats to use weapons against a partner (knife, gun, etc)
- Touching without consent or permission
- Forcing a partner to stay or go somewhere
Emotional and/or verbal abuse refers to a pattern of non-physical behavior one partner may use to control and manipulate the other. This is through the use of insults, threats, monitoring, and humiliation.
- Examples include:
- Monitoring social media
- Controlling what one partner wears
- Controlling who a partner can hang out with/spend time with, especially without the other present
- Yelling/screaming at a partner
- Embarrassing or humiliating
- Constant criticism
- Gaslighting: making a person question their own sanity or reality through emotional manipulation.
Digital Teen Dating Abuse:
Digital dating abuse is the use of technology to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. If it helps, think of verbal or emotional abuse taking place online.
- Examples include:
- Controlling who one partner can or can’t follow or be friends with on socials.
- Sending negative, harassing, or threatening texts, direct messages, snapchats, emails, etc.
- Tracking a partner via social media
- Using social media to insult or humiliate (posting mean comments, unflattering videos, or pictures with the intent to embarrass).
- Sending/requesting/pressuring a partner to send explicit texts/ sexts, photos, or videos.
- Pressuring a partner to give them access or control of their social media (stealing or pressuring you to give them your passwords).
- Being bombarded with texts or calls and being made to feel guilty if they are not constantly answering them.
- Demanding to look through their phone (photos, messages, calls, etc).
- Using any kind of technology to monitor them (GPS trackers, Apple AirTags, etc).
Sexual abuse is noted by behavior one partner may use to coerce, pressure, or force the other into sexual behavior they do not want to participate in. Or behavior to control the other partner’s sexual activity or circumstances surrounding sexual activity.
- Examples include:
- Unwanted kissing or touching
- Refusing to use condoms, or taking the condom off during sex without consent
- Sexual contact with someone unable to give clear and informed consent, (intoxicated, under the influence of drugs, unconscious, asleep)
- Threatening violence
- Pressuring, guilt-tripping, emotionally manipulating
- Physical force
- Using sexual insults
Impact of Teen Dating Abuse:
Dating abuse can be emotionally exhausting. It can have a serious impact on our psyches. While teenage years can already cause struggles with self-esteem, emotional abuse can be detrimental to teens’ mental health. Though emotional and digital abuse may not cause bodily harm, it can leave you with long-lasting mental scars and potentially lead to physical violence.
When a partner is constantly belittling you, criticizing you, and/or making fun of you, it’s no surprise that this can have a negative effect on your mental health. It’s hard to be confident, happy, and motivated when your partner has you questioning if you are good enough or even your own sanity. This is done purposefully, as this makes a partner easier to control. That’s what dating abuse is all about – control.
Warning Signs for Parents:
It may be difficult to tell if you teen is in an unsafe or toxic relationship . If your teen is being physically abused, they may have injuries that they have weak explanations for. There may be inconsistencies in their stories that don’t make a lot of sense. While physical marks can be apparent, it is often very common for teens to try to cover and hide signs of abuse. Have you noticed your teen wearing heavier makeup than usual? Perhaps they are refusing to wear short sleeves in the summer. While makeup and clothing choices do not always point to abuse, if this behavior is new or unexplained, it might require further inquiry.
You might notice your teen seems to be constantly on edge. Maybe they seem more reserved than they once were. Your once vibrant, vivacious teen might exhibit new signs of depression or anxiety. Perhaps, they have begun to isolate and withdraw. For example, cutting off contact with friends, no longer participating in activities that they were once passionate about, or spending more time alone. Have they stopped wearing things they once felt confident in? Did they stop actively posting on social media? These signs can have a variety of causes unrelated to dating abuse. But if these changes start to appear after your teen has gotten into a relationship, a concern may be warranted.
What else can you do if you suspect your teen is in a toxic relationship?
Dating abuse is a prevalent issue across the lifespan, in every type of intimate relationship. While it can be scary to observe these signs in your child, recognizing the signs early on can assist you in getting them the necessary support and allowing you to get them to safety faster. Support can come in many different forms. Including individual counseling for teens and group therapy to help them process what they have experienced.
High school students who have been the victims of dating abuse are also likely to experience dating abuse in college. Intervention is a critical part of keeping your children safe, happy, and healthy. Being conscious of the signs is one part. Learning what to do with this information is the next. Continue on to part two of this series to learn more about what you can do if you suspect your teen may be in an abusive relationship.
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Get Support for Your Teen with Online Therapy for Teens
Have you seen some of these warning signs in your teen? A teen counselor can provide them with support after experiencing teen dating abuse. Realizing your child is going through dating violence can be extremely difficult. Our Scotch Plains, NJ-based therapy practice is here to support you and your teen throughout this process. We provide group therapy and online therapy for teens to help them regain the vibrant energy they had before experiencing dating abuse. Get support by following these steps.
- Contact us to talk with a teen counselor.
- Make your first counseling appointment for your teen at Brave Minds Psychological Services.
- Watch your teen regain their vibrance and independence.
Other Services We Offer in Scotch Plains, NJ
Online therapy for teens isn’t the only service that we offer at Brave Minds Psychological Services. We provide individual trauma therapy, food allergy therapy, and couples counseling. For parents, we provide postpartum counseling and birth trauma therapy. Our services for children and adolescents include teen anxiety treatment, social phobia therapy for teens, child sexual abuse therapy, child anxiety treatment, and more. Our services are offered in person at our Scotch Plains, NJ office and through online therapy in New Jersey
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