February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

  • Published
  • By Ruth Sunde
  • 92nd Medical Operations Squadron
In the movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” the main character, Desmond Doss, is on a date with his new girlfriend. Their interaction in the movie theater is awkward and much like any first date. After a few moments, she jokingly infers that he needs to brush up on his dating skills. It may sound silly, but how realistic was that request?

We all have our own definition of what a healthy relationship should look like and many times that formulation is based on our values, our experiences as an adult and as a child and how we see ourselves and others. Sometimes, mistakenly, we base how we treat our intimate partner on advice from friends and family, the lifestyle and actions of others or by the influence of media.

The notable German-born psychologist, Erik Erickson, defined several social development stages, including adolescence, which includes ages 13 to approximately 20. One major characteristic of this stage is that the individual is working to refine a sense of self by testing roles and then integrating them to form a single identity. The teenager is emotionally moving away from their parent or caregiver and instead focusing on interacting and gaining approval from their peers.

This transition, coupled with dating, is often just as confusing for the parent as it is for the adolescent. Teen relationships may appear to adults as “puppy love,” but these relationships can be powerful and all-consuming. The best defense a parent has is education—education for themselves and for their teen.

Relationship abuse, regardless of the ages of those involved, includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse. It can include isolating the victim, “blowing up their phone,” and controlling behavior in various areas of their life. Relationship abuse crosses all socioeconomic, racial, age, religious, educational and sexual orientation barriers.

Discussing teen dating violence with our kids is imperative.

We simply cannot assume the teen knows what is right or wrong, what is healthy and not healthy, or what is and isn’t normal behavior. It’s important to have a discussion in a neutral place away from distractions so parents and teens can listen in a respectful manner. Establishing an atmosphere of trust, free from judgment, is crucial. Sometimes teens send covert signals. They want to talk to parents by trying to get them alone in a car or hanging around the parent without saying much. Anytime our teen wants to talk, we should drop whatever we are doing and be that listening ear.

A simple question such as “how are things going?” can be a conversation starter. Good follow-on questions can be more specific about the expectations, notions and culture of dating from their perspective. Following this discussion, a good question could be, whether they have seen any kind of abusive behavior between kids who are dating, why they think the abuse is happening and why people would stay in an abusive relationship. You might be surprised at what you hear!

For more information about teen dating violence, visit loveisrespect.org, call the National Dating Abuse Helpline (866) 331-9474, the Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate 24/7 (509) 247-2016 or the Family Advocacy office at (509) 247-2687.