Healthy dating for teens

by Emily McCormick
Ramstein Family Advocacy

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. If you are not aware of this issue, you are not alone. In a recent survey, 81 percent of parents believed teen dating violence was not an issue or stated they don’t know if it’s an issue. Unfortunately, because teen dating violence is often a problem that teens keep secret, even parents who have an open, close relationship with their son or daughter may be unaware it is happening.

In reality, 1 in 10 American teenagers are physically abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend each year. Others may be sexually or emotionally abused.

Here is some information that may help parents talk about this issue with their teen.
What is teen dating abuse?

Dating abuse occurs when one partner seeks to gain power and control over the other by emotional, sexual, physical or social abuse. Teen dating violence can include the following:

• Physical abuse: non accidental use of force causing fear or injury (hitting, slapping, shoving, biting, strangling)

• Emotional/verbal abuse: behaviors such as demeaning, belittling, name calling, threats, isolating from friends/family, stalking, extreme jealousy

• Sexual abuse: unwanted sexual contact

• Cyber abuse: using social media to demean, threaten, isolate, humiliate. This could include spreading rumors about the partner, uploading pictures without consent, stalking.
Teen dating abuse usually involves a pattern of behavior; the behavior typically intensifies over time, causing the teen to be increasingly at risk. Often, the relationship seems to start well, with the teen feeling special and valued. It then evolves into a relationship that is exclusive to the point of isolating the teen from friends and family.

Some signs that abuse may be happening in a teen’s relationship:

• He/she may cancel plans with friends, withdraw from sports or other activities.

• Evidence of anxiety or depression.

• The need to stay in constant touch with the partner.

• Secrecy beyond what is normal for him/her.

• Reluctance to talk about any problems in the relationship.

• Defensive if perceiving their boy/girlfriend is being criticized.

• Injuries for which the explanation seems vague or doesn’t make sense.

Teens stay in an abusive relationship for a number of reasons. They may feel embarrassed, ashamed or confused and expect that no one will believe them. They may also lack the ability to recognize what abuse is. They may have been threatened by their partner. They may not be ready to end the relationship and fear that their parents will put an end to the relationship. They may also think that parents will be angry at them for not telling sooner, and they may lose privileges or be in trouble.

Parents should talk with their teen about safety in ending the relationship, as a teen may be at increased risk during a break up.

What parents can do:

• Talk openly with your teen about safe and healthy relationships.

• Use opportunities like watching a TV show to talk about their choices. A good approach is to ask how other teens handle dating issues.

• Talk directly, but without judgment, to your teen if you suspect abuse. Express your concern and let them know you are there to listen.

• Stay calm and don’t overreact emotionally if your teen shares disturbing information with you. Teens are more likely to open up if they don’t feel like they have to manage your feelings as well as their own.

• If your teen discloses dating abuse to you, have a plan and know the resources, including counseling and legal and online resources.

• Recognize your child may have ambivalent feelings towards the abusive partner, feeling that he/she is still in love with them, hoping they will change, afraid to be alone, etc.

• Make a safety plan with your teen if he/she decides to leave an abusive relationship.
The ASACS counselors will be providing information about healthy dating to students at Ramstein high school and middle school this month.

What does healthy dating look like?

• We have mutual respect.

• We are open and honest with each other.

• My partner supports me and wants what’s best for me.

• We respect each other’s boundaries: physically, sexually and emotionally.

• We give each other space.

• We have a good balance of time together and time with other friends and our families.

• It is safe to talk about my feelings.

• We have an equal balance of give and take.

• We can disagree without anyone ever threatening harm.

• Our friends and family support our relationship.

What are red flags that tell me I’m not in a healthy relationship?

• I feel emotionally or financially controlled.

• My partner humiliates me in front of friends or on sites such as Facebook.

• I feel responsible for my partner’s emotional well-being.

• My partner has threatened suicide if I leave.

• My partner has threatened to hurt me or someone I love if I leave.

• I don’t feel able to enjoy myself when I’m out with friends because my partner is constantly calling or texting me.

• My partner always wants to know who I’m with and where I am.

• I have been physically hurt by my partner.

• My partner calls me names, or says things that make me feel small, guilty or afraid.

• My partner is very jealous and controlling.

• I feel like I can’t do anything right and I’m to blame for my partner’s problems.

• My partner has mood swings.

• I feel pressured or forced into having sex or going farther than I want to.

For more information, call the Ramstein High School ASACS counselor at 480-6951 or 06371-47-6951.