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Teen dating and violence: What you need to know

No one wants to see their children hurt. Unfortunately, during teen and early adult years, when dating is a new experience, teens can find the dating world confusing which can result in an unhealthy or abusive relationship.

Teens can easily view teasing and things like a pet name that is really a put down, as normal parts of a relationship. They can also think that stalking behaviors, such as non-stop text messaging and calling, are an indication that their dating partner is attentive and loves them.

They can mistake intensity, which is exciting and new, for passionate love. Dating violence can sneak up on them, and once they fall in love, they are quick to make excuses for their partner’s insensitive, abusive behavior and they continue to tolerate it.

Young adults and teens who’ve enjoyed the excitement, sense of belonging, and increased status of going steady are reluctant to trade it in for the sadness, heartache, and anger of a potential break up.

Parents Can Help

Parents can help by talking casually with their children when they are children, ‘tweens,’ and pre-teens prior to their dating. Talks can focus on qualities their child needs to insist on in a partner, and how to identify these early during ordinary interactions.

Rather than a one-time discussion, this needs to be an ongoing conversation with children. Using hypothetical scenarios works well with children and tweens, as children these ages usually enjoy imagining their future lives, including future partners.

Most importantly, however, parents need to model respectful behavior in their own relationship so their children can see this day-to-day. This template or blueprint of what a relationship is thereby automatically transferred to their children. Modeling can include allowing children to witness parents working through some basic disagreements civilly.

When done effectively, this adds skills to the child’s template.

Know the Signs of Abuse
Even with these protective actions, parents need to know that their teen may still encounter dating violence. Some behaviors that parents need to notice to prevent violence include:

- when their teen’s dating partner calls them names or puts them down in front of others
- when the partner acts extremely jealous, even of simple attention by others
- when the partner tries to isolate their teen from family and friends (including the parents)
- when the partner tries to control their teen by checking up on them constantly and demanding to know what they’re doing and who they’re with
- when a teen hides bruises or other injuries with long sleeved shirts, turtlenecks and sunglasses
- when there are changes in their teen’s behaviors, moods, and friends.

Dating violence can include physical, psychological/emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as stalking. Abuse can also occur electronically, such as repeated texting and posting sexual pictures online. FaceBook is often used to manipulate, harass, and emotionally abuse a partner as well as to spread nasty rumors and lies to undermine their partner’s supports.

Instagram and Snapchat are predominantly used by teens and young adults. The technology which causes the message to disappear rapidly are particularly difficult to respond to effectively.

Sometimes, parents can feel helpless to intervene, but it is important for the parent to communicate their support to their teen rather than be drawn into a tug-of-war with the teen’s dating partner over the teen. Teen and parent relationships can become strained, in part because the teen or young adult is naturally beginning to spread their wings and becoming more autonomous in these areas, despite their relative inexperience.

Teens may say, “I know what I’m doing! Leave me alone!” Since teens want to feel competent in this area, they may be very reluctant to admit they screwed up with this partner choice, even when they are in some real danger. Teens also tend to have the mindset of invincibility, and believe bad things happen to others, but never them.

While such beliefs are normal in adolescence, a part of teen development, when it comes to teen dating violence, they can create a barrier to effective intervention.

Providing information indirectly and subtly, such as leaving brochures around the home with dating abuse indicators listed, can hit home. Of course, parents want to be their children’s expert resource, authority, and the one they consult first, but that may not always be possible. Rather than lose the opportunity for some influence, it may be better to adjust the approach.

Positive statements are generally well received by teens. Pointing out how kind, caring, and loving the teen is -and how they are worthy of love like that in return, usually hit the mark. Pointing out that you only want the best for them can sometimes be interpreted as, “No one’s ever going to be good enough for you in my eyes!” -which can backfire, so you may have to be careful with those types of remarks.

Instead, using open ended questions -ones that can’t be answered with only a yes or no- to ask your teen what qualities they like in their new dating partner, which can open up communication. This can then naturally lead the teen to bring up their partner’s qualities they dislike or are threatening.

Be careful not to jump in to solve their minor level problems, and talk to your teens about how they plan to handle it instead. This can leave the door to communication open, so that when the teen finds that things are beyond their own ability to handle, they know their parent is waiting to assist non-judgmentally.

Parents need to know that a teen under the age of 18 years old cannot obtain a legal protective order, commonly known as a restraining order, without the parent’s involvement and help. Few parents understand the full ramifications of the legal process involved. Seeking legal assistance may be in order, and parents will need to consult with their local law enforcement.

There are times when a child or teen is under serious threat of violence and a parent may have to seek a protective order against their wishes, but on their behalf. It is a parent’s responsibility to keep their child safe, but it is, of course, important to do this in as safe and legal a manner as possible.

Once a protective order is obtained, an adult in the home must be willing to call 911 and have the police enforce the protective order. Additionally, on base, the Family Advocacy Program’s Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate can assist parents with information about the legal process for protective orders. They do not work directly with underage clients, but can support the parents. The phone number for the Family Advocacy Program is 719-556-8943. The emergency phone number for the DAVA is 719- 556-6625.

Resources available for teen and young adult dating violence include:

On either Schriever AFB or Peterson AFB the Military & Family Life Counselors are another helpful resource. They can be reached through each base’s Airmen and Family Resource Center or through the base websites. MFLCs are working at many of the local schools with high numbers of military children, so they may be contacted through the child/teens schools as well.

More Resources:
National Dating Abuse Helpline and Love is Respect:
1-866-331-9494 or text 77054 or

National Domestic Violence Hotline:
1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

National Sexual Assault Hotline:
1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

National Sexual Violence Resource Center:

Contact a Military OneSource consultant if you’re not sure how to talk to your parents about what’s happening (1-800-342-9647).

Create a safety plan with the help of the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799- SAFE).

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui