Mike Parker: Ten warning signs of teen dating violence
In my last column, I mentioned that parents never want to think of their daughters and sons enduring physical, emotional, mental, sexual or social media assaults in their dating relationships. Sadly, many times, parents overlook the evidence a child is involved in an abusive relationship because we do not want to think the unthinkable.
Here is a word of advice: THINK the unthinkable. Be alert and on guard. Remember your children have much to learn about healthy relationships — especially dating relationships.
The Break the Cycle website (breakthecycle.org) has a link to “A Parent’s Guide to Teen Dating Violence: 10 Questions to Start the Conversation.” A brief section of the booklet shares warning signs parents need to recognize. The booklet shares these warning signs from the daughter’s perspective, but just reverse the “she” to “he” if you have a son.
1. She apologizes for his behavior and makes excuses for him
This tactic seeks to deflect parental concern by minimizing abusive behavior. The image the teen wants to project is she is dating a good person who just made a mistake. A slap is not a mistake. Verbal abuse is not a mistake. Bullying on social media is not a mistake. Trying to take advantage sexually is not a mistake. Nothing excuses these behaviors. We do not hurt a person we love.
2. She loses interest in activities she used to enjoy
I have seen top-notch students lapse into mediocrity when they become involved in abusive dating relationships. The driven student loses the drive to achieve. A girl once committed to developing her talent in dance loses interest. The kid who always clowns around becomes somber. Pay attention to such shifts in behavior.
3. She stops seeing friends and family members and becomes more and more isolated
Isolation from family and friends is a tool most dating bullies find useful. The more the young person leaves the support and the perspective family and long-time friends provide, the more the abuser can manipulate her thinking. The abuser’s “reality” increasingly becomes the reality of the victim. Never trust any dating partner who seeks to drive a wedge between your child and you.
4. When your daughter and her boyfriend are together, he calls her names and puts her down in front of other people
Name-calling and put downs are about control — nothing more or less. A young man who insults his girlfriend in front of others is eroding her sense of worth and her self-confidence. The reverse is also true: a young woman who insults her boyfriend is guilty of the same erosion of worth and confidence. The less confident the victim is, the more control the abuser can exercise.
5. He acts extremely jealous of others who pay attention to her, especially other guys
In Othello, Shakespeare called jealousy “the green-eyed monster,” but nothing is poetic about jealousy. If you have read the play, you watched as Iago manipulated Othello to doubt his wife’s faithfulness. “He wants me all to himself” and “he just wants to spend all his time with me” are phrases that indicate control and power — not love.
6. He thinks or tells your daughter that you (her parents) don’t like him
When your teen’s dating partner contends the parents do not like him or her, the abuser is trying to destroy your bond with your child. If a naïve teen buys that line, then your child begins to see every reaction you have to the partner’s behavior as part of that “your parents do not like me” mantra.
7. He controls her behavior, checking up on her constantly, calling and texting her, demanding to know who she has been with
If a son or daughter is constantly receiving text messages such as “Where are you?” “Who else is with you?” and “Can you send me a picture to prove you are where you say you are?” then you need to be on the alert: your teen is likely involved with a control freak. The abuser does not want your teen to have any sense of privacy. Sometimes the abuser will secretly stalk your teen to make sure she or he is not lying.
8. She casually mentions his violent behavior, but laughs it off as a joke
Violent behavior is never a joke — NEVER. When a teen suggests violent behavior is no big deal, you can rest assured your teen is being abused or soon will be. Desensitizing a person to violence prepares that teen to be a victim.
9. You see him violently lose his temper, striking or breaking objects.
Parents: Trust your own eyes. If you see a person lose his or her temper, break things, or hit things, then your kid may be next. Most dating partners tend to be on their best behavior around parents, so if you see a violent episode, then you should wonder how frequent the outbursts are.
10. She often has unexplained injuries, or the explanations she offers do not make sense
Again — trust your eyes. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Learn to be a good listener and a non-threatening questioner. Do not settle for nonsensical answers. Press kindly — but firmly.
Of course, discussing these sensitive issues with your teen can be tough. You need to establish open communication with your teen long before the teenage years arrive. Do not be one of those parents too busy to listen — until your teen is in the emergency room.
Parents are the first line of defense against teen dating violence. Take the time to build that defensive line before you need it.
Mike Parker is a columnist for The Neuse News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .