Gloves Off: Teen Dating Violence

Fifteen-year-old Amber has bruises on her upper arms from where her boyfriend Scott grabs her during arguments. When her best friend Tracy voices concern, Amber tells her, “He doesn’t mean it. He loves me. He would never hurt me.”

Sixteen-year-old Jarred demands that his girlfriend Megan stop talking to her friends and going to the mall without him. He also forbids her to speak to his friends. When her friends express concern, Megan says, “He’s jealous because he loves me. He wants me all to himself.”

Seventeen-year-old Matt has an explosive temper and shoves his girlfriend Laken when they get into an argument. The last time he shoved her, she hurt her back on the corner of the dresser. She told her friends nothing. She told herself, “He just lost his temper.”

Steven and Christiana are both seventeen and have been going steady for two years. Sometimes he forces her to have sex when she doesn’t want to, and she thinks this is normal in dating relationships. 

Sixteen-year-old Martino calls his girlfriend Rosa “fatty”, “stupid”, “slut”, and “worthless”. When her friends tell her this isn’t right, she replies, “He’s just joking with me. He talks to everyone that way.”

Teen dating violence.

The junior version of adult domestic violence: Physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Slapping, shoving, domination, even rape.

What If?

If you found your son or daughter in an abusive dating situation, what would you do?

Sobering notes to parents:

Parents, there is little difference in teen relationship violence and adult relationship violence, except in the area of solutions. Teens have fewer legal and social support systems available to them. The very nature of adolescence keeps many teenage girls from disclosing dating violence. Adolescence is a time when teenage girls are finding independence and trying to break away from your parental controls. They want little or no involvement or intervention from parents and other authority figures where their social lives are concerned.

It’s natural for teens to keep to themselves about dating, but sometimes they want and need you to ask or intervene, so try to keep the door of communication open.

Teen girls tolerate abusive relationships for the same reasons their adult counterparts do: Tradition, shame, low self-esteem, etc. Some teenage girls don’t even realize that the jealous, domineering, physically aggressive, and possessive behaviors of their boyfriends are hallmarks of an abusive man. They often mistake jealousy for love. Teenage girls report physical abuse by boyfriend and date rape less often than adult females do. There are few resources available to them. They don’t have the developmental maturity to make decisions like adults do. Not many turn to their parents, and even if a parent suspects abuse or confronts a daughter about these concerns, the daughter usually denies or minimizes to protect her boyfriend. There are few if any protective shelters set up for teens. Usually they find support systems among themselves, most often with other abused girls. Unless an assault is extreme and a girl and her family lodges a complaint with authorities, most teenage boys who abuse get away with it.

If you suspect that your teen is being abused in a dating relationship, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call someone for help, be it 911, a crisis hotline, or other professional in a position to help.

We also find that teenage boys who abuse come from abusive homes. They have learned this behavior by watching their parents interact. They often unconsciously mimic the controlling nature of their father. In turn, abused girls often mimic the victim patterns of their abused mothers. That’s why it isn’t uncommon to find little or no support for the teenage victim within immediate families when there has been a history of domestic violence.

If you’re a teenage girl in an abusive relationship, what can you do?

Tell someone. A parent, teacher, nurse, guidance counselor, clergy member, or other adult. Silence will only invite more violence, because your partner is not apt to change on his own. He doesn’t understand the dynamics and doesn’t possess the skills.

Get out of the relationship, especially if he threatens you or has abused a former girlfriend. A teen abuser will mature into an adult abuser without counseling. You can’t change his behavior. Only he can, and rarely does so without professional intervention.

Stand up for your right to want and deserve a violence-free relationship. Recognize that an abusive relationship is not a loving one, no matter what your friends, family or boyfriend tells you. You have the right to say no to anything he says or does or wants you to do, and you have the right to have friends, freedom, and safety.

If your date rapes you, report it immediately. To preserve evidence, don’t wash or change your clothes, just call the police and get to the hospital. Don’t hide or minimize it. It’s a crime, and he could do it again, to you or another girl. Don’t blame yourself if it happens. Teenage boys can and should control themselves. To do otherwise is illegal and immoral. Seek counseling through a crisis center, mental health agency, or support group.

If you are a teenage boy who has abused, realize this:

Being physically aggressive, controlling, and possessive are not demonstrations of masculinity and love.

Physically hurting someone or forcing sexual relations is a crime, and you can find yourself in the juvenile or adult court system, with the possibility of a jail sentence.

That you bring your own family ideas, experiences, and patterns of violence into a dating relationship. You may be acting out because of sexual stereotypes and traditional male expectations. You may have seen or lived this type of behavior in your own home. Be aware of how music, television, the movies, and media culture may influence your attitudes and behavior.

Counseling is available to manage anger, aggression, and feelings of jealousy and control. Communication skills and non-aggressive, non-violent interaction can be learned.

Respecting a girlfriend means showing support, sensitivity, and positive attention.

Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol is no excuse for violence. They can often accelerate and intensify aggressive behavior. Seeking help for substance abuse is taking a positive step toward change.

Note to teenage boys who are being abused…

Teenage boys can be victims of physical and emotional abuse too. If you find yourself in this situation, you should seek help or break away from the relationship. Boys are reluctant to disclose abuse because of pride and shame. Know that abuse can happen to anyone, and boys deserve as much protection and help as girls.

Final Note to Parents…

Parents, know that sudden changes in mood, grades, social interaction, or physical signs of abuse are red flags that could indicate a teenager is being abused by a boyfriend.

Half of female rape happens to adolescent girls and most of their rapists are casual or steady boyfriends. About a third of high school girls will experience some form of dating violence.

A teen relationship should be positive, nurturing, and fun; not full of fear, violence, and pain.

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