Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, so it is a great time to learn about this all too common problem.

Teen Dating Violence is a very difficult and complex topic.  Teens might share friends with their abusive partner. Their friends might think the abuser is wonderful, lending to peer pressure to stay together. They typically go to school together, so it is difficult to avoid each other entirely.  Teens might fear trying to leave the relationship safely.  If teens have lived with domestic abuse at home, they might even think the abuse is normal.  The abusive behaviors tend to lower the victim's self esteem, making leaving feel less desirable since they feel no one else will ever care about them and a bad relationship is preferable to being alone.  They often have feelings of love and attachment to the abuser, and hope that behaviors will change.  Online teens can experience cyberbullying even when not with their (ex-) partner. There are often no physical signs, but the emotional scars can last a lifetime. Learning about abuse characteristics can help save someone you love from a dangerous relationship!

Nearly 1 in 10 high school students report being physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the previous year.  (CDC 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey)

1 in 10 = TEN PERCENT of high school kids in the past year were hit, slapped, or otherwise physically hurt by their date!

The Liz Claiborne Inc.'s Love is Not Abuse 2011 College Dating Violence and Abuse Poll showed that 43% of dating college women have experienced violent and abusive dating behaviors.

That's nearly HALF of college dating women who have been victims!  

I remember as a medical student working ER shifts or in the STD clinic and seeing several college girls come in for suspected sex while drunk (they never called it rape) or after unplanned/undesired sex with a "boyfriend".  They typically just wanted testing for disease, but what they really needed was much more!  They had mixed emotions and were confused about who was at fault.  They had a lot of guilt that really was misplaced (in my opinion).

Though females are more likely to be the victims (1 in 4 women have been assaulted by a partner), 1 in 14 men report being victims.  Regardless of sex, it is likely that abusive relationships are underreported due to the nature of the problem.

We see news stories of abusive relationships but it doesn't always seem real. A new bride murdered.  A teen raped.  A sports figure accused.  Unfortunately we don't even know about most abusive relationships. People suffer silently.  How is a parent to know?  Can a teen see risk factors before becoming involved with a risky personality?

Parents might look for the "type" of teen that they want their child to steer away from, but unfortunately, the abusers are not easily identified.

They typically are very smart, personable, likable people.

They manipulate others.

They gain trust.

They weave deception.


What it might look like: 

The relationship typically starts out well.  A lot of laughs, good times.  If it didn't, people would leave.  Abusers have a power and control cycle that builds over time. They gain a little trust, then test with a little control.

Bit by bit they become more controlling and abusive.  It builds so slowly many people miss the early warning signs and then are so swept by the cycle that it is hard to leave.

Abusers want to know your every move, which at first might even seem flattering, but it is a control tactic. They might chose what you wear or where you go. They monitor your phone calls to see who you talk to.  They isolate you from your friends and even family so you lose your support group.  They put you down so you feel no one else would like you or want you.  They make you feel less of a person and they are "good" to put up with you.

They get jealous (again, flattering on the outset because they "care").  They often apologize for hurting you, but then claim it is your fault that they behave that way. In truth, they blame others for most of their behaviors and only take credit when things make them look good.

What to do?

There are many levels that need to be addressed to prevent and recognize abusive relationships, starting with how we raise our children from infancy and continuing throughout their lives.

Children who are raised in homes with abusive behaviors are much more likely to grow up to be in an abusive relationship.  If your home is not safe make every attempt to make it so.  Stop the cycle!
Abusers often monitor your computer and phone use, so use caution.  
From a safe computer, click here if you are in the KC area.  From a safe phone call 913-262-2868 (phones answered 24/7 confidentially at SafeHome).
We need children to feel loved and secure.  Children who feel unloved might look for love in all the wrong places, trying to please others and end up being taken advantage of.  Love unconditionally!

Kids need defined limits, but an ability to learn and grow into independence with experience.  Being firm and setting boundaries is an important part of being a loving parent.  You are NOT their friend. You don't need to be a friend to be an effective, loving, parent who is well loved and respected.

Kids need help learning to stand up for themselves and to deal with anger and disappointment in a healthy way.  Set an example for this.  Life typically presents many opportunities to model these behavior.  If you have not learned to control your temper, learn.  Ensure enough sleep for everyone at home, as we are all more short tempered when tired. Choose words carefully.  Remain calm.  Of course you can't be a pushover either.  There is a way to stand firm in your position without yelling and losing your temper.  There are many self-help books on this topic and counseling is available.  It is that important!

Kids need to learn to accept responsibility.  Responsibility should grow as kids grow.  They should have appropriate consequences that teach lessons along the way.
Remind teens that they are never to blame if someone forces them to do something sexually they don't want to do. They need to feel open to share this pain with you or another trusted adult so they can get the help and support they need.
Kids need respect.  Do unto others as you would have done unto you. These words of wisdom have passed through the generations, and are needed as much now as they were generations ago.
They should be taught to respect themselves in all they do: eat nutritionally, exercise, get enough sleep, wear helmets, buckle up, stay away from drugs, etc.
They should be taught to respect others: say nice things, don't ask others to do things that might cause them harm, respect their personal space and things, etc.
They should enforce that others treat them with respect. If a friend does not treat them with respect, they can try first to talk with the friend about it if they feel safe doing so. If the friend does not change behaviors, they should leave the friendship. 
How can parents and teens recognize signs of potential abuse?  Use your instincts. If you suspect something is not right, act on your hunch and take action to address issues and leave the relationship early if problem behaviors persist.  Get help from local resources as needed.

Things to watch for with an abusive relationship:
  • Relationship moves quickly to "serious"
  • Jealousy in the relationship 
  • Frequent calls, texts, and other contacts  
  • Control issues in the relationship
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Mood swings, anxiety, or depression
  • Physical signs: bruises, cuts, scrapes, showering immediately when coming home
  • Verbal criticisms are overheard: stupid, fat, ugly, no one else would put up with you, etc
  • Abused feels guilty and "at fault" and makes excuses for their partner
  • Personality changes in the abused
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Multiple sexual partners
What are signs of an abusive personality or one who is likely to abuse? Abusers do not look like drug dealing, tattoo covered, pierced people in tattered clothing. They are difficult to recognize on first glance because they tend to be popular, good looking, and personable.  They are often *good at reading people and responding to other's desires, making them seem "perfect" initially.

Traits to watch for in an abuser: 
  • One who blames others for all problems
  • One who wants to move quickly into a relationship
  • One who does not respect personal boundaries
  • One who is easily jealous 
  • One who is insulting (you're fat, you're stupid, no one else would love you like I do)
  • One who has a history of hitting or hurting others
  • One who criticizes others
  • One who takes little personal responsibility for actions
  • One who tries to monopolize your time and life
  • One who seems perfect initially (no one's perfect!)
  • One who has mood swings or can't manage anger or frustration well
  • One who takes big risks and is impulsive
  • One who wants to control what you wear, who you are with, and what you do


Where to go for more help: