As a freshman in high school, Sarah thought her relationship was passionate. That her partner loved her.
It took her over a year – and a trip to the ER – to realize that she was experiencing abuse.
“Being a teenager is hard – it is an incredibly fragile and formative time in our lives,” said Sarah. “Talking about healthy relationships is important at any time, but it is especially important for teenagers and parents. If I had been better educated about what healthy relationships look like, I may have been able to empower myself to leave the relationship sooner than I did.”
Unfortunately, Sarah’s story isn’t uncommon. 1 in 3 teens in the U.S. will experience dating violence and 1 in 5 will experience severe physical violence from a dating partner.
It’s never too early to start a conversation with a young person in your life about what healthy relationships and assertive, healthy communication look like. And if you suspect that a teen in your life is in an abusive relationship, here are some things you should know:
Oftentimes abusive teen relationships begin with jealousy, demands for attention, and becoming exclusive or serious very quickly. Like adult abusive partners, abusive teens will often attempt to have all of the attention and affection from their partner focused on them. Initially, this can feel like love, concern or commitment.
Abusive teens may try to choose their partners’ friends, what they wear, where they go and how they act in public. Over time, a teen who is being abused may begin to separate from long-time friends, classmates or family members; stop participating in extracurricular activities; start to dress differently; and receive incessant texts or calls from their partner. They may also have unexplained bruises or marks on their body.
As a parent, mentor or caretaker, an expression of concern – if not carefully planned – can be misread as control or judgment, which may cause the teen to shut down and further isolate themselves. Before having a conversation with the teen in your life, consider reaching out to an advocate or trusted friend for support and guidance.
When you do engage, try to approach the situation from a perspective of being concerned and empathetic. The conversation should be centered on the negative behaviors of the abusive partner, rather than the partner themselves.
Saying things like “I’m concerned about you, and it’s not okay for anyone to be treated like this” can help the teen in your life hear your concerns. It is important to never imply that they brought something on themselves or did something to deserve it.
Most importantly, don’t take it personally if the teen in your life doesn’t want to talk to you about these issues. Offer additional resources such as those listed below, and continue to keep lines of communication open, letting the teen know that you continue to be available for support.
- LifeWire has a full-time Youth Advocate who works directly with teens who have experienced dating violence. Call our 24-Hour Helpline at 425-746-1940 for more information.
- Youth Eastside Services is a lifeline for kids and families coping with challenges such as emotional distress, substance abuse and violence. Through intervention, outreach and prevention, YES builds confidence and responsibility, strengthens family relationships and advocates for a safer community that cares for its youth.
- Loveisrespect engages, educates and empowers young people to prevent and end abusive relationships.
- That’s Not Cool is dedicated to decreasing teen dating violence due to technology, and is increasing awareness for healthy teen relationships online.