Healthy relationships and teen dating violence

Submitted by SAFE San Juans

By exploring the dating process, teenagers gain an understanding of life and fundamental ideas about relationships. In our teens we began to evaluate how we will approach and handle difficult situations. Once these habits form, they will affect our perception of healthy relationships for years to come.

In the impressionable pre-teen and teen years, kids form ideas about dating from social media, TV, movies, books, friends and family. It is clear that some of these sources support and glorify unhealthy relationship behavior such as gender stereotypes, disrespect, coercion and violence. However, as parents and other caring adults, we can help by talking to our children about teen dating violence. Statistics show that teen dating violence is a serious problem:

– 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in one year.

– One in three adolescents in the United States is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse by a dating partner.

– One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

All these figures far exceed the rates of other types of youth violence in the United States.

Now is the time to nurture the seeds of respect, kindness and healthy decision-making. So where do we start?

Communicate with your child about dating violence. Teenagers take cues from their surroundings. If they are witness to abuse, they may normalize it within their own relationships. Make sure you talk with your teen. If you see violence in a movie, on their social media, or if they have witnessed it first-hand, use this as an opportunity to speak to your teen. Share your values, and encourage positive relationship habits.

Although statistics show that adolescent females ages 16–24 experience the highest rate of domestic violence, almost triple the national average, we know that teen dating violence affects all genders. Teens that are in violent or controlling relationships are at a much higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and future domestic violence. Looking for signs of abuse when your child is in a dating relationship is very important. Both males and females can be the victim or the perpetrator of violence. For perpetrators of domestic violence, the behavior begins between the ages of 12 and 18, and the severity is greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence.

Do not be afraid to talk with your teen about relationships, and do not be afraid to use your experiences to talk with them. Whether your teen has just begun dating or they have been dating for some time, they still have a lot to learn. Healthy relationships take work both emotionally and intellectually. Teens do not always find it comfortable to talk with their parents about their intimate relationships, and they are far less likely to talk with them if they are in an unhealthy relationship. Talk with your child even if it is uncomfortable. Remember your child is laying the groundwork for their future relationships. Do not shy away from talking with them even if it is hard or embarrassing. Ask your child how their relationship is; ask questions about the interactions, mutual respect, boundaries, etc. Remember, they are more likely to come to you in the future if you show interest now.

If you or someone you know is in a violent relationship or would like more information, call 360-378-8680, 360-376-5979 or 360-468-3788, or visit