Could Your Teenager Be in an Abusive Relationship?

By Colleen Brady, Health Educator

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.

Colleen BradyAnyone who is a fan of the singer Rihanna knows about the beating she suffered at the hands of boyfriend Chris Brown.  Those same fans undoubtedly know that after a very public split, the two are back together.

In the comment section of a recent Rihanna/Chris reunion blog, one reader wrote, “She’s not going to get beat up again. You Rihanna haters wish she got beat up again to make fun of her. She has worked hard for what she has and she deserves the life she has. She just chose to give CB a second chance. And Chris is not that stupid to make the same mistake again.”

Is that reader being naïve?  Will Chris abuse Rihanna again?  The chances that he will are high.  According to the National Dating Abuse Helpline, 1 in 3 high school relationships is physically or sexually abusive.  The average Rihanna fan is 12-13 years old.  The website also points out that the average age when violent behavior begins is between 12 and 18 years old.

Keep in mind that dating violence isn’t just physical violence or sexual abuse.  It can also include emotional or mental abuse, which involves mind games, put-downs, criticisms or making you feel crazy.  Whatever form it takes, dating violence is a pattern of controlling behavior that one partner uses to get power over the other.

Abusive relationships often have good times and bad times. Part of what makes dating violence so confusing and painful for those involved is that sometimes there is love mixed with the abuse. This can make it hard for a teenager (or an adult) to see clearly and tell if he or she is really being abused.

Why do they stay?

It may seem obvious that a person in an abusive relationship should get out immediately.  However, according to loveisrespect.org, there are many reasons why someone would stay with an abuser.  These include being threatened, believing abuse is normal, embarrassment, low self-esteem, and love.  The person may also feel peer pressure if the abuser is popular, cultural or religious pressure (causing fear of bringing shame on the family by leaving), distrust of adults or authority, and/or reliance on the abusive partner.

How can parents tell if their child is in an abusive relationship?  Parents can watch their child’s behavior.  Some signals would include:

  • Excessive worrying
  • Lower confidence
  • Excessive computer and/or phone use, or stopping altogether
  • Inability to give a satisfactory explanation of an injury
  • Changes in their behavior, friends, routines, or activities

Parents, if you suspect your child is being abused, don’t judge him or her for staying in the relationship.  If you can, understand and acknowledge that if your child talks about love, these feelings are real.  Explore with them their developing definition of love. Be open and listen to their concerns.  They could shut down if they feel that you don’t hear them or are shaming them.

Because Rihanna and Chris’s relationship has been so public, parents can use news stories, blogs or social media posts as teachable moments.  Why is she back with him?  Is there a tendency to blame the victim?  Instead of asking why they stay, perhaps the question should be: why is the abuser abusing?  News stories make great door openers to remind our kids that abuse is never okay – even if the person is provoked.  Help them to recognize signs of abuse, like wanting to know where they are at all times or over-texting.

Unfortunately, without help, the violence will only get worse. If you think your child may be in an abusive relationship, encourage him or her to call the National Dating Abuse (NDA) Helpline to talk with someone about it.  In Baltimore, call the CHANA (Counseling, Helpline, and Aid Network for Abused Women) Helpline, 410-234-0023.  Jewish Community Services offers counseling: call 410-466-9200, or visit www.jcsbaltimore.org.   You can also call the NDA Helpline for more information about dating violence and other resources for teens, such as www.loveisrespect.org, created by the Helpline and Break the Cycle to foster healthy dating attitudes and relationships.

By Colleen Brady, Health Educator, Prevention Education, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD

Questions about parenting?  Send an email to parenttalk@jcsbaltimore.org.  For more information on parenting click here or call 410-466-9200.

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