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Dating violence

The person I am dating sometimes scares me

Posted: September 11, 2008 10:07 p.m.
Updated: November 13, 2008 5:00 a.m.
 
Dating violence is not as rare as you may think. It's the stuff television movies are made about. It's also the stuff boys and girls who are dating share with me in counseling sessions, as they share there experiences with dating and dating violence. And it's also the stuff teens are afraid to tell their parents about. It's difficult enough for parents and teens to talk about dating.

Dating is often thought about as a right of passage. It's a hot topic of conversation that usually starts taking place in most households when teens reach 13-16 years of age.

Yet, it should be a topic of conversation much earlier in life so our kids know what their parents think and feel about dating. Better yet, the conversation allows them to teach their teens early on dating boundaries.
If you personally know of someone who has experienced dating violence, you are not alone.

One in five teens in a serious relationship reports having been hit, slapped, or pushed by a partner.

Somewhere between 50 to 80 percent of teens have reported knowing others who were involved in violent relationships.

Teens identifying as gay, lesbian, and bisexual are as likely to experience violence in same-sex dating relationships as youths involved in opposite sex dating.

Many studies indicate as a dating relationship becomes more serious, the potential for and nature of violent behavior escalates.

Young women ages 16-24 experience the highest rates of relationship violence.

Teen dating violence can happen to anyone no matter where they live, or what kind of home they come from.

When teens begin showing an interest in dating, and begin nagging their parents for permission to do so, parents often ask themselves: Is my teen old enough to date?

Chronologically, they may - or may not be. Maturity, rather than age, should be the main guideline in determining whether a teen should, or should not, begin dating.

Maturity would include knowing and displaying good manners toward the opposite sex. A mature teen would not be prone to displays of anger, jealousy, selfishness and disregard for the feelings of others. A mature, ready-to-date teen would show he or she is a responsible member of his family and community.

However, many teens - of both sexes - begin dating without knowing what the fundamentals of a healthy relationship are. As you can see from the statistics, teen dating violence is becoming more frequent, and teens need to learn how to protect themselves. This applies to males, as well as females. Although most who abuse are male, there are female abusers.

Dating violence is any type of intentional act upon the dating partner that causes harm or distress. The types of abuse in teen dating violence are the same that show up in adult domestic violence: Rape (unwanted sexual attention), verbal (name calling, belittling, put-downs), emotional/psychological (humiliation, threats, deceit, unkindness and disrespect) and physical (hitting, kicking, slapping, punching, choking, hair-pulling).

Experts say that the person who abuses needs to feel that he is "in control," and often isolates the victim from friends and family. This isolation keeps the victim from getting needed help, increases her feelings of low self-worth and leaves her more open to other forms of violence. The abuser is often jealous of the time she spends with anyone other than him, and wants her to account for her time when she is not with him. He will often call her many times a day - several studies report as many as 20 calls in one day.

The target of any type of abuse will usually suffer long-term. The effects from abuse depend on the length of time the abuse occurred, and the intensity of the violence. Verbal, (emotional or psychological) abuse should not be discounted. While it's much easier to see the effects of physical abuse - a scar or a bruise, the effects of verbal and emotional abuse leaves scars that no one can see. Those who are abused in this way can experience a range of emotions, from being withdrawn, to severely depressed.

Teaching your kids the fundamentals of dating is of the utmost importance. First what constitutes a date? If your teen likes someone of the opposite sex and they go out with 10 other kids to the bowling alley, a school dance or the movies, is that a group outing - or is it a date? What about the two of them going out alone in a car together? Figure out what sorts of activities you approve of and make sure your teen understands where the boundaries are. Set the boundary: "You're welcome to go someplace public with this person, as long as you're with a group and there's a parent there to supervise. However, you're not permitted to go off alone somewhere in a vehicle."

Setting limits as to whom your teen can date is important. If you don't want them going out with someone more than a year or two older, establish your age requirements immediately. In some households it is deemed reasonable to allow a one to a two year difference in the dating age. You might say "Look, since you're only 15, I don't mind you dating someone 16 or 17, but anyone older than that is off-limits."

If you have concerns about them dating someone who may have a reputation for making poor choices, such as drug use, alcohol consumption, or promiscuous sex, you need to let your child know what you think. The words are, "I've heard this person is really into partying and I'm just not comfortable with you dating someone who spends their time drinking and using drugs."

Conversations about dating should include talking to your teen about sexuality. Depending on what your family's values are, you'll need to make sure your teen understands what sort of behavior is acceptable and what is not.

Equally important, let your teen know that just because they are dating someone does not obligate them to become sexually active. Encourage your teen to talk to you if they feel that they are in a relationship with someone who is pressuring them. If you have boys, you still need to have this talk; male teenagers are under just as much pressure to have sex as the girls are.

It's imperative you meet anyone your teen is in a relationship with. While it may sound old fashioned and your teen will complain, sons and daughters need to know that before they go out with someone, their date is expected to come into the house and introduce themselves to you. This allows you to get a good idea of who your teen is seeing.

Let your teen know that communication is always open. Encourage him or her to talk to you about any questions they may have. Remind your teen that dating is a privilege, but it also comes with responsibilities. Once again, don't forget to teach that dating abuse is not acceptable in any circumstance and teach coping mechanisms in case it does. Keeping secrets, especially about dating is harmful to all.

You may want to consider developing a Teen Dating Bill of Rights. A set of affirmations and pledges for teens reflecting the importance of awareness of dating abuse and the need for young people to take a stand and nurture healthy relationships. This Teen Dating Bill of Rights comes from the Love Is Respect Web site, which is designed for teens who are dating (www.loveisrespect.org), Better yet, use this as springboard for a dating discussion with your teen and have your teen create their own dating bill of rights.

Cary Quashen is a high-risk teen counselor, a certified addiction specialist, the founder and president of ACTION Parent & Teen Support Programs and the ACTION Family Counseling Centers.

Quashen may be reached at (661) 713-3006. The ACTION Hotline number is 1-800-FOR-TEENs.

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