For teens across the country, the rites-of-passage we typically associate with high school and college – school, sports, extracurricular activities, proms and graduations – have been turned upside down. And teen dating is no exception.
The pandemic has caused teens (and their parents) to re-think what dating looks like with limited opportunities for in-person interactions. Now instead of hanging out in person, many relationships are taking place digitally. Texts, Facetime and an ever-growing number of social media sites are now how teens are connecting with significant others, as well as peers of all kinds.
This is having a huge social impact, because these years are when many people first begin to experience romantic relationships – a critical time for developing healthy relationship skills, setting the stage for successful relationships of all kinds later in life.
February is recognized as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and this year SAFY is encouraging parents to take time to help young adults understand healthy relationships, and specifically healthy online connections.
Teen dating violence is a serious issue. The National Domestic Violence Hotline estimates that last year alone, one in 10 high school students experienced some type of abuse from a romantic partner. This abuse can come in a variety of forms, including:
- Physical: This abuse is characterized by any physical harm, and is what people most associate with dating violence
- Emotional: Name calling, possessive behavior and being isolated from family and friends can be signs of emotional abuse from a partner
- Digital: Digital abuse is where the partner uses technology and Internet sites to bully, harass, stalk, intimidate or control another person
With teens connecting online more and ever, it is so important for parents to have conversations about what it means to be in a healthy relationship, and how their teen can recognize red flags when it comes to online connections.
Here are some tips:
- Model healthy relationship behavior at home. When teens see the adults in their life treat each other with mutual respect, honor and trust, they will internalize and look for that in developing relationships of their own – both in how their partner treats them and how they treat their partner.
- Talk about red flags and other warning signs that signal something is toxic in a relationship. This includes everything from a partner being overly jealous or controlling, to discouraging your teen from doing activities they would normally enjoy, or pressuring your teen into sexual or other risky behavior. Sometimes, teens may not even realize that these behaviors are abusive or not normal.
- Help your teen set appropriate boundaries for digital connections. Just because we can connect with others 24/7 through texting, calls and social media doesn’t mean we should. Make sure your teen knows the signs of cyberbullying. If a partner seems to be constantly checking in and demanding a response, monitoring social media usage, posting harassing comments and/or sending threatening messages or images online, seek professional help.
- Create space for non-judgmental conversations. It is important for your teen to know they can have open and honest conversations with you, and that you are here to help. Starting these conversations early on – before your teen becomes involved in a serious romantic relationship – will set that foundation.
And beyond knowing the signs, it’s equally as important to know what to do if your teen has been abused.
- Open the conversation and ask questions, but don’t shame. Your teen needs to feel comfortable talking to you, so in the conversation focus on the health and safety of your child, not the choices that he/she should have made.
- Don’t push. A parent’s instinct may be to demand their teen immediately end the relationship and cut off contact with the abuser. But this can be counterproductive and give more power back to the other person. The big caveat here is if there is an immediate threat to physical safety. Which in that case…
- Contact authorities when necessary. If there is a clear threat to your teen’s life or anyone else, contact emergency or crisis services like local police, local domestic violence agencies or national hotlines for help.
With teens being home more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, the good news is that you have a great opportunity to have critical conversations about teen dating violence and help your teen build a foundation for keeping themselves safe as they begin romantic relationships.
If you suspect your teen or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at thehotline.org or call at 800-799-SAFE (7233).
SAFY works to strengthen families and communities through therapeutic foster care, behavioral health services, family preservation, older youth services and adoption/post-adoption services in Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, Ohio and South Carolina.