Studies show that at least one in ten teens will be in an abusive relationship (newchoicesinc.org), yet teens and parents both tend to minimize this problem or even realize that it is a big issue for adolescents. I’m going to estimate that the number is actually far higher than that, but fear and ignorance have lead to underreporting.
Unfortunately, most teens are not educated about this issue, and therefore do not know what it means or how to spot the warning signs. But if 62% of tweens (age 11-14) who have been in a relationship say they know friends who have been verbally abused (called stupid, worthless, ugly, etc) by a boyfriend or girlfriend, then this is clearly a huge issue worthy of more attention.
So what is teen dating abuse? Teen dating abuse is a pattern of coercive behavior in which one person attempts to control another. This may include physical, sexual, verbal, mental, or emotional abuse. So just because your boyfriend isn’t beating you, it doesn’t mean you aren’t in an abusive relationship. Often, it is more subtle, preying on your mental and emotional well-being.
Sometimes, people don’t even know they are acting in an abusive manner, as their need to control you is what guides them. Other times, they know exactly what they are doing, but cannot control their need to exert power of you, as they are afraid of losing you and need this to feel good about themselves. Boys and girls can both be victims, and it doesn’t matter if what race you are or if you are rich or poor. It can happen to anyone.
Teens who suffer dating abuse are subject to long-term consequences like alcoholism, eating disorders, promiscuity, thoughts of suicide, and violent behavior (dosomething.org). Therefore, it is important to know the warning signs in case you or someone you know might be in an abusive relationship.
Sometimes, is takes another person outside of the relationship to notice what is really going. It can be hard to notice sometimes when it is happening to you, as love can change your perceptions. Listen to your parents and your friends if they express concern. Knowledge is power, and nobody should ever allow themselves to be abused in any way.
Here are the warning signs of teen dating abuse (adapted from domesticshelters.org):
- Your partner wants to know where you are what you’re doing every minute of the day
- Your partner calls, texts, FaceTimes and Snaps you constantly and gets upset if you don’t answer immediately
- You feel afraid to disappoint your partner because they get angry with you
- Your partner demands all of your time and attention, and gets upset if you want to be with other people, including your friends and your family
- Your partner insults you and degrades you
- Your partner blames you when things go wrong
- Your partner pressures you to do things you don’t want to do
- Your partner uses guilt to get you to do what they want
- Your partner gets very jealous
- Your partner checks your phone and has passwords to your email and/or social media as well
- Your partner demands you check with them before you do anything
- Your partner has been physically aggressive or violent with you, or threatened this
- You’ve lost interest in things you used to enjoy
- You’ve become more critical of yourself
- You have become isolated and distant from friends and family
- You defend and minimize your partner’s behavior to others
- You show signs of depression, such as loss of interest in friends or dropping grades
- You’ve changed your appearance or style of dress to please your partner
- You’ve become secretive with your family and friends
- You don’t really talk to anyone else much anymore, as your partner demands all of your attention
It is easy to mistake these warning signs of abuse for love. When you are getting a lot of attention from someone you like, it feels good and that often feels loving. I mean, who doesn’t love getting attention and someone doting on you?
The problem is when there is a lack of healthy boundaries which would allow you to be together but also stay separate. It is challenging at any age to find this balance, let alone when you are a teenager just starting out with relationships and figuring things out. And yes, all teens will make relationship mistakes, and hopefully heal and learn and grow from them. But keep your eyes open for these warning signs.
Love and control are not one and the same, and nobody should ever try to control or possess you. If you maintain a healthy self esteem and know what to look for, you should be able to avoid or at least end and an abusive relationship when you see it.
If others, like your friends and family, are telling you about unhealthy patterns that they have noticed, don’t get defensive, they’re trying to help. These are people who love and care about you. When they are concerned, you might want to listen. From the outside, they can often see things more clearly than you.
Speak up if someone you know is in an abusive relationship. If you or someone you know needs help getting out of a bad relationship, talk to a trusted adult or call The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can even chat with them online at thehotline.org.