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Parents often in the dark when it comes to dating abuse

Published on -9/9/2013, 11:14 AM

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This is the ninth in a series of articles about abuse and violence in teen dating and romantic relationships.

Q: How can parents help teens avoid abusive and violent dating relationships?

A: A 2006 study conducted jointly by Teenage Research Unlimited and Liz Clairborne Inc. revealed significant information about parental lack of knowledge concerning teen dating violence and abuse with their own children. Essentially, parents need to be educated about teen abuse and violence before they can be helpful to their children.

For parents whose teens are not in abusive relationships, they need to focus on talking with teens about skills for developing healthy relationships, about expectations about dating, and about recognizing when a relationship does not feel right. If parents are in abusive relationships, the only way to help their teens is to end their own bad relationships.

Parents should focus on observing signs their teens are being abused or their teens are abusing others. Both these types of behavior can be observed at home if parents have the knowledge about teen abuse and violence.

If parents become concerned about their teens being victims or perpetrators of teen dating violence or abuse, they need to talk with their teens about their dating relationships. They should tell their teens why they are worried and what they observe. If suspicions are confirmed, parents need to follow through and seek advice from professionals about what to do. The above pointers for parents are on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, healthfinder.gov.

Additional information about how parents whose teens are not in abusive relationships can take preventative measures is available on the Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet entitled Family Tapestries. Before teen dating starts, parents can help teens establish guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable dating behavior. Parents also should talk with teens about warning signs of abuse and violence. Parents can provide teens with information about resources, including hotlines and local programs.

Other sources present additional suggestions for parents. The New York University Child Study Center urges parents to allow teens to invite their friends over, but to set rules including no entertaining when parents are not home. If parents expect teens to answer their questions, then they need to answer questions from their teens. When parents have histories of past abusive romances, they find sharing information difficult. However, such disclosure is important and necessary. Teens will not be open if parents are not.

Another important guideline for parents is to know how their children are using technology. Parents also need to let teens know the importance of letting them know about cyberbullying and sexting when they occur.

On the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Service Extension website, education.com, there is a comprehensive list of tips for parents about dating. First of all, how parents deal with this topic models how to communicate in a caring and supportive way. If teens feel loved and secure, they will be more likely to open up and trust their parents.

Parents need to have daily conversations with teens about their schedules and activities. Careful listening will teach parents a lot about their peers and close friends. Parents who have close relationships with their teens can ask open-ended questions about potential romantic relationships. Generally, girls are more apt to share confidences than boys.

Discussions with preteens and early adolescents does not make them more likely to seek dating relationships. However, early conversations could provide opportunities to discuss myths and misconceptions they might have.

Continuing with strategies from the University of Florida, trying to open discussions about friends is helpful if parents already know of such abuse. Parents can watch television programs that focus on teen romances. They should watch such programs along with their teens and then be open to discussing situations they observe.

In later adolescence, parents should support teen dating unless warning signs of abuse arise, in which case parents need to discuss that development with their teens. Parents need to be cognizant of the fact teen identity and sexuality still are forming and not to impose their beliefs or pass judgment on their teens. Parents can encourage young adolescents to have group dates for events such as movies, shopping at the mall, swimming parks or ballgames.

Another website from Allergy Partners of Fredricksburg discusses how parents can support teen dating. Talking and sharing can be a bonding experience for parents and teens. There should be ongoing communication with teens so lines of communication already are open when problems occur.

Parents should restrain themselves from making allegations about sex to teens. If they are not sexually involved, teens will be angry about the questioning. If they are involved in sexual relationships, their parents need to discuss safety and protection from pregnancy. Berating and judging adolescent sexual behavior is pointless and can alienate teens from further disclosures.

Monitoring and supervising teens is necessary but intruding on their privacy is not recommended. Checking Facebook accounts from time to time is acceptable provided teens give their permission.

Unless there are strong indications teens are abusing or being abused, reading their diaries and discussing them with their friends would be considered invasive.

Finally, parents need to resist making rules based on what they did or what an older sibling did during adolescence. Basing dating rules on either situation will cause resentment and anger from teens toward their parents.

* Next week's article will discuss recommendations for schools to develop programs about teen dating violence and abuse.

Judy Caprez is an associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.

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