Dating violence is a serious problem in the United States, reports Sandy Wurtele, a psychology professor at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs and the author of several guides to keeping kids safe.
If you’re the parent of a middle-schooler, you may not think this applies to you. After all, as far as you know, your child is not dating. What you may not be aware of is what happens at the parties your child attends, or when kids meet after school, at a concert or summer festival. Abuse can be physical, emotional or sexual, and it can occur even if kids aren’t “formally” dating. Girls are as likely as boys to perpetuate partner violence.
To help prevent your son or daughter from being a victim or perpetrator of dating abuse, Wurtele recommends:
- Talk with your teen about dating being a privilege. Explain that any socializing, and especially romantic relationships, have both rights and responsibilities.
- Model a healthy, respectful relationship with your own partner.
- Demonstrate respectful touching. It’s important that you be able to show affection to each family member, and that you honor each person’s requests to stop. If you suspect that a teenager’s refusal to be hugged or kissed results from more than the usual teenage embarrassment, try to determine whether someone is abusing your child. Share this concern with your child, and ask if he or she would like to talk to you or another trusted adult.
- Clarify to your children that victims of abuse are never at fault. In the movies and television programs you watch, or the books you both read, you may find examples of characters who rationalize their abusive behavior by blaming their victims. You may be able to use these as “teachable moments.”
- Know the warning signs of dating abuse. These can be as seemingly innocuous as calling a partner an unflattering name or texting the partner excessively.
For more help understanding dating violence, see Wurtele’s Safe Connections: A Parent’s Guide to Protecting Young Teens from Sexual Exploitation.