By Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFTIt seems like each day brings new challenges for today’s teenager. In this ever-changing world of virtual living, societal and academic pressures, deployments and moves for military families and keeping up with the latest trends, it looks like teenagers are often facing just as many challenges as today’s adults. February has been named Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. For a month to be dedicated entirely to this one topic, it must be a pretty significant problem, right? In fact, according to the CDC, nearly 10% of high school students report having been physically abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend within the previous year. And, it’s important to acknowledge this statistic as only a reflection of what has been reported.
Something to think about: If our teenagers are experiencing unhealthy relationships as their first, does that set the tone for potentially unhealthy relationships for the rest of their lives? And would this normalize those types of relationships for them, sending them the message that this is the only type of relationship they are capable of having? So, where do we, as mental health professionals come in to play in all of this? How do we raise awareness and provide tools to teenagers so healthy relationships are promoted and emphasized? Perhaps we should start by encouraging parents to do the following:
- The Open Door Policy: This is when we tell our children they can come and talk to us no matter what. The conversation may look something like this: “Even if you think what you tell us will disappoint us or make us unhappy, we want you to know you can come to us about anything.” This isn’t enough; we need to show them that whatever topic they need to discuss with us will be treated respectfully.
- Setting an Example: You can talk until you’re blue in the face about healthy relationships. But, if you are in an unhealthy relationship and your children are seeing this, that’s sending them mixed messages. Show them what healthy and respectful relationships look like. Have open conversations about how to establish and continue these types of relationships.
- Acknowledging the facts: It is important for us to make our children aware of potential dangers. Talk to your children about red flags in unhealthy relationships so they have the proper tools to recognize problems before they occur.
- Be Involved: This doesn’t mean you should be a helicopter parent or micromanager. It doesn’t mean you have to know your child’s passwords to all of their social media accounts. It means you need to have appropriate and healthy interactions with your children. It means you should be having daily check-ins with your children and you should know who your children are spending time with and where they are spending their time. While it can be very challenging, it is very important to find a healthy balance between parenting your child and giving them personal freedom and autonomy. This will require some work on your end, but it will be well worth the effort you put forth.
- Know the Signs: Do the research. Talk to professionals. If you suspect that your teenager might be in an abusive relationship, take the time to carefully examine the situation and intervene if necessary.
It is important to remind parents that they have to take on the role of tour guide; helping their children navigate their way through life and steering them away from potential dangers. We need them to remember that just like tourists, their children often find themselves in foreign territory with a desire to explore but a need for guidance. Following the above steps will assist parents in preventing and raising awareness of teen dating violence and other potential challenges that may arise for their teenager.
Other resources pertaining to this topic can be found below:
- Break the Cycle
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline
- Family & Youth Service Bureau-Teen Violence Awareness Month
- F&YSB – Teen Violence Awareness Month Calendar
- Military OneSource – Understanding Teen Dating Violence
This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT, the social media and webinar coordination specialist for the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development concentration on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.