Learn the Signs of Teen Dating Violence

The messages keep rolling in: “Where RU”, “What U up 2”, “Who U with”, “I miss U”, “U need to respond to me”, “Send a pic. So I can see”. After a half hour dinner with the family, a teen may have 100 missed messages. If they fall asleep early, they may wake to accusations of ignoring, lying to, or even cheating on their partner.

At first, teens convince themselves that the attention is adorable, flattering even, but the attention can become obsessive and controlling. The relationship shifts over time, and adorable turns to threatening and frightening. According to loveisrespect.org, one in three teens in the U.S. experience emotional, physical, or sexual abuse in a dating relationship.

Warning signs of dating violence often disguise themselves as infatuation or “puppy love.” A strong desire to be connected to others romantically is a normal part of adolescent development, but not every teen has been taught or can identify what a healthy relationship feels like.

Surveillance comes in the form of constant phone contact. Modern culture normalizes and even demands vigilance and immediate response to electronic dialog. However, in a budding romance, nonstop communication sets up an unhealthy expectation that one partner can keep tabs on the other, monitoring where they go and with whom they spend time.

Teenagers are notorious for “ghosting” their friends and family while dating. They are so wrapped up in the excitement of a new love interest that no one else seems as important, and without other relationships, the new love interest becomes their whole world. Disconnection from family and friends may gradually occur, leaving a teenager isolated and without support when they need to talk about concerning or abusive behaviors.

The road into a dating violence relationship may be filled with missed warning signs, but the destination could be physical or sexual assault and emotional distress. Awareness and open dialog with a parent or trusted adult could make a difference for the 1.5 million teens that experience physical or sexual abuse in a relationship each year. Teens need to know that abuse is unacceptable and that they are not alone.

According to research conducted by Teen Research Unlimited, 82% of parents believed that they would know if their teen was experiencing dating violence, but only 42% correctly identified the warning signs. So, learn to recognize the signs and seek support for teens experiencing dating violence. Notice if a teen is constantly checking their phone, isolating themselves from friends and family, lashing out or becoming defensive about their relationship, or being controlled, belittled or insulted by their significant other.

Mutual Ground is a safe place for teens in Southern Kane and Kendall counties to receive support during or after a dating violence relationship. At area schools, Mutual Ground talks to teens about sexual violence and dating violence. Individual and group counseling can help teens heal from the effects of dating and sexual violence. Also, for those who are ready to talk but want to remain anonymous, Mutual Ground offers a 24-hour hotline for teens, or anyone, to talk about their situation and their options.

Reaching out, speaking up, and finding support can help a teen take back the power and control that is stolen in a dating violence relationship.

Submitted by Samantha Hoover, MA, LCPC, Family Services Coordinator, Mutual Ground


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