Setting the Stage to Avoid Dating Abuse
Source: Tween Parent Staff
Chris Brown's recent alleged assault against the popstar Rihanna once again highlights the problem of dating abuse. Although this couple is much older than your preteen, many people are wondering how a talented young woman ended up in this situation. Are there steps that we, as parents, can take to help our kids avoid dating abuse in the future? With little life experience, kids do not understand the types of behavior needed to create a healthy bond. Even though TweenParent.com recommends against serious romantic relationships for tweens and young teens, we feel that it is an important time to talk to your preteen about building healthy relationships and understanding the warning signs of potential abuse.
It is an unpleasant reality that preteens and teens experience remarkably high levels of abuse in dating relationships. The younger kids date, the more likely this is to be true. An inability to recognize signs of a healthy relationship, an undeveloped identity, and low self-esteem can lead to mistreatment. A survey commissioned by Love Is Respect and Liz Claiborne Inc. found that:
- 20% of children between the ages of 11 and 14 say their friends are victims of dating violence,
- 40% of children between the ages of 11 and 14 in relationships know friends who are verbally abused, and
- 34% of teens that are sexually active by age 15 have been physically abused.
"What makes this data so disturbing is the clear and unexpected finding that dating abuse and violence begins at such a young age," said Jane Randel, the vice president of corporate communications for Liz Claiborne Inc. Equally concerning, is that the survey results also reveal "parents don't know what's going on."
Abuse in tween and teen relationships is often hidden because kids are establishing their independence and have romanticized views of love. By identifying the early warning signs of abuse, teens can choose better relationships. Warning signs can include:
- Controlling behavior;
- Extreme jealousy;
- Substance abuse;
- Negative attitude towards the opposite sex or belief in rigid sex roles;
- Verbal abuse;
- Mean-spirited teasing;
- Blames others for his/her problems or negative feelings;
- Explosive anger;
- Animal cruelty; and/or
- Threatens violence.
The most important thing you can do for your preteen is teach him/her what to expect in a healthy relationship. Over the course of many conversations, you can encourage your tween to expect respect and empathy, be assertive about their feelings, work on communication skills, and help them develop positive feelings about their identity. Attributes of a healthy relationship include:
- Good Communication - The most important part of any relationship is the ability to talk and listen to each other. It is the foundation of any friendship.
- Respect and Trust - Partners feel comfortable sharing their dreams, fears and concerns. They know that their feelings are respected and do not feel mocked or belittled.
- Honesty - Partners should not lie to each other.
- Equality - Partners share decisions and responsibilities. They discuss roles to make sure responsibilities and expectations are fair and equal.
- Interdependence - Partners have clear identities and boundaries that separate one person from the other. They recognize each other as individuals and understand the importance of being able to function as a couple and independently.
- Self-Esteem - Partners have a balanced and positive view of themselves.
- Respectful Disagreements - Partners respect each other as individuals and understand that there will be differences of opinion. Handling anger appropriately, compromising, negotiating and resolving conflicts are key components of a healthy relationship.
- Mutual Empathy - Over time, partners work to gain a deep understanding of each other, which, in turn, helps them create a more connected relationship. A key factor in predicting the success of intimate partnerships is "how well people know each other" rather than what they have in common.
- Enjoy Being Together - Partners laugh, have fun and are comfortable with each other.
By helping your preteen look for these characteristics in her friends and modeling positive relationships at home, you will help your child lay the groundwork for emotional intimacy in adulthood.
Tween and Teen Dating Violence and Abuse Study (February 2008)
National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, July 2008 "Tween and Teen Dating Abuse Survey"
The Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Handbook of Resilience in Children by Sam Goldstein
The Successful Child By Martha Sears and Elizabeth Pantley
For more about relationships read: Puppy Love: Preteens and Crushes