• CPS - Jennifer Jewell

    By Jennifer Jewell, Human Services Adjunct Instructor, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences 

    “Don’t drink!”

    “Don’t do drugs!”

    “Don’t get involved with an abusive partner!”

    What do all of those statements have in common? They are all things that kids hear at some point during their teen years. What about the last one? How many parents talk with their kids about healthy relationships? In my experience, not many. When asked that question, the parents I’ve worked with have replied with something like this: “My child knows better.” “I don’t have to worry about that because my child tells me everything. If something was wrong he/she would tell me.”

    Really? Think back to your teen years. Did you tell your parents everything? Do you remember what that first crush felt like? Do you remember what it felt like to be in love as a teen? Those feelings are intense…and they feel good. No one can deny that it feels good to be wanted. Combine those feelings with raging hormones, a brain that is still developing, little life experience, peer pressure, and lack of education and you may be looking at a recipe for disaster.

    Dating violence has become a national epidemic yet few parents are aware of it. According to the National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline (http://www.ndah.org/) and loveisrespect.org:

    • Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year
    • One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence
    • One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend
    • One quarter of high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse

    A few years ago I interviewed a family after their 16-year-old daughter had been held at knifepoint by her ex-boyfriend in the basement of their home. The parents repeatedly told me that they never imagined that their child, an honor roll student and star athlete, would ever get involved with a “boy like that.” They admitted that they were fooled by him in the beginning of the relationship as he was very charming and likeable. Their daughter seemed happy and since she made good grades and never got into trouble, they had no concerns.

    I’ve talked with parents, family therapists, and law enforcement officials from across the U.S., and while the family dynamics may differ, there are many aspects of the violent relationships that are the same:

    • The relationships start out like any other. The abuser is usually liked by parents and friends.
    • The abuse may begin with what appears to be innocent teasing, name calling, wrestling, or caring gestures of “concern.”
    • The abuser slowly becomes more possessive. What starts out as “Just checking on you.” text messages and/or phone calls becomes “Where are you and who are you with?”
    • Parents report noticeable changes in their teens’ behaviors. Teens spend less time with their friends, more time in their bedrooms, on the phone and/or computer, and are defensive when asked about the relationship. Their grades often suffer and some even walk away from the extracurricular activities that they love.

    As soon as parents notice changes like those listed above, I suggest they start investigating. It is important to be very upfront with the teen about your concerns. If the teen denies anything is wrong it may be time to take a look at their text messages, email, and/or Facebook. Some parents believe that is an invasion of privacy. The parents I previously mentioned felt that way until their family therapist told them it was their job to protect their child and do what was necessary to make sure she was safe. If someone was threatening their child they needed to find out before it was too late. Thankfully, they took the advice of the therapist and when they did, they found hundreds of text and Facebook messages from their daughter’s boyfriend making demands and threats. When they confronted their daughter with what they found, she admitted that she wanted to end the relationship but was scared of him and what he might do. The parents did all they could to support their daughter through the break up, including talking to local law enforcement, notifying the school, and trying to communicate their concerns to the boy’s parents. Unfortunately, the school said there was little they could do as nothing had happened on campus and the boy’s parents, even after reading some of his messages, replied, “Oh, it’s just young love.” That “young love” escalated to their son holding his ex-girlfriend at knife point and SWAT having to intervene.

    The morale of the story: parents, don’t assume your kids know what a healthy relationship is. No matter how responsible we think our kids are, at the end of the day they are still KIDS. They don’t have the maturity or wisdom that comes from life experiences that enables them to find their way out of situations like abusive relationships. They need us to teach them about relationships and what to do if one becomes unhealthy…before it’s too late.   

    The National Dating Abuse Helpline. http://www.ndah.org/


    Jennifer Jewell is an adjunct faculty member at Kaplan University. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Kaplan University.

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