By Kiara McNair and Eveny GriffinTaking the first steps, starting school, making friends. These are some of the things associated with children growing up. One of the scariest parts of growing up in the eyes of parents is teenage dating. Most parents think of what the appropriate age to begin dating is, what time to set curfew, and who they want their child to date. Dating violence is less thought of, but a very important topic concerning teenage dating.
Largio (2007) states “eighty-one percent of parents did not know or did not believe that teen dating violence was a problem”. He also describes teenage dating violence as “(1) acts or threatened acts of some form of abuse; (2) young people; (3) and some form of intimate or romantic relationship. Thus, any form of abuse or threat of abuse that occurs between young people who are in a dating relationship constitutes teen dating violence” .
So why is this so important to discuss with teenagers of all ages? Teenage dating violence affects a large population of teenage students. Knowing the signs, symptoms, and preventive methods can be influential in protecting your teen from becoming a victim.
Imagine yourself as a parent receiving a phone call from the school principal informing you that your child has been a victim of dating violence. Thoughts immediately begin to fill your mind including the feeling of self-doubt. Why would this be important to service professionals? As a service professional, the teen will need services to cope with the abuse as well as the parent. In order to fully be able to support the teen, the parent must move past the feeling of self-guilt. How can this be done? To begin, the service professional must know the signs of dating violence. Once the parent identifies these signs in their child, the service professional can identify how their child purposely hid the signs. The next step would be providing the parent tips for communicating with the teens concerning the abuse. As service professionals, we understand that teenagers often shut down when parents attempt to talk to them about difficult topics. The service professional can help the parent develop skills to overcome these communication barriers.
What about the teenage victim? Think about how the teen must be feeling: self-blame, insecurity, and possibly what they think is love towards the abuser. It is critical for the service professional to know the effects dating violence has on a teenager whether they are the victim or perpetrator. Being knowledgeable of the possible feelings the teenage victim can be experiencing will assist the service professional in having empathy which leads to establishing a great rapport. Having an understanding of how this topic affects everyone involved can greatly influence the success of intervention.
As we did research on Teen Dating violence, we learned that teens use violence as a means to control their partner and coerce them into doing what their significant other wants them to do.
As service professionals, we must be aware of the signs and symptoms that both teens and parents should look for when teens get involved with significant others. Parents and teens can work together by having open communication. How can parents have open communication? By actively listening to the teen, engaging in their story and not blame the victim/client.
We must learn to actively listen to our clients, build rapport and validate their stories, especially our teen clients because they are even more susceptible to the opinion of others during this time of constant transition in their lives. We must actively listen and engage in a way that doesn’t push our biases and personal beliefs onto our client but allows us to work together with the client, and help them to work through the abuse and talk openly about their dating life. How would you encourage your child to talk to you about dating violence?
This post was written by Kiara McNair and Eveny Griffin, guest bloggers for the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals orking with military families. Kiara and Eveny are masters-level marriage and family therapist (MFT) in training enrolled in the Marriage and Family Therapy Department at Valdosta State University. They also work as MFT interns at VSU’s FamilyWorks Clinic, a community-based family therapy clinic. You may find more about the authors, here. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD team on our website, on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.