Steps can be taken for teens to protect against dating violence
This is the eighth in a series about abuse and violence in adolescent dating and romantic relationships.
Q: How can adolescents in abusive relationships protect themselves?
A: First, teens need to be aware of all warning signs and red flags about abusive and violent relationships. Unfortunately, many teens only learn these signs after they are already involved in destructive romantic relationships.
A fact sheet from the Stanford University Family Prevention Council spells out strategies for teens to escape abusive relationships. The information includes several options. Telling a friend or relative what is happening is a start, or calling a teen dating abuse hotline. The next recommendation is to break up in a public place with friends present in order to minimize violent reactions.
Another recommendation is to change the school route and the locker location at school. It might be necessary to change one's email or cell number. Keeping change or a calling card handy for emergency calls is recommended. Using a buddy system to go places with someone else is a good idea, and so is finding safe places to go. That recommendation means staying away from isolated locations or places that make one vulnerable, such as a club that is so loud and dark no one would know if someone was in danger.
As a preparation for possible legal action, teens being victimized should keep journals that document what happens. Although this recommendation is after the fact, abused teens should educate themselves about abuse and violence. No one wants to intentionally get involved in future abusive relationships, but without education and counseling, such repetition is probable.
The article also gives suggestions for friends of abused teens. Friends can listen without judging, let the abused friends know you believe them, and that you do not think they are at fault. Friends need to be patient and supportive. Friends can accompany their friends when they seek help. They can go places with them in order to minimize the danger and the fear of the abused friends. The last piece of advice for friends is not to confront the abusers. Confrontation can trigger more violence that would be directed toward the victims.
In a publication from the Alabama Coalition against Domestic Violence, there is a list of Dating Safety tips. When dating someone new, teens can double-date for a while. Before leaving for a date, teens should know the plans and tell them to a friend or family member.
A real and significant tip is not to drink too much. A victimized dating partner becomes essentially helpless when excessive alcohol leaves them defenseless. If teens leave a party with someone they don't know, they need to tell someone where they are going. Actually, going with somebody one doesn't know is not a good idea.
Teens need to be firm and direct in new relationships. They should not present themselves as vulnerable and needy. Most of all, teens need to trust their own instincts. If situations feel uncomfortable, teens should figure out ways to get themselves out of the situations.
Adolescents need to learn what makes intimate relationships healthy, giving them a frame of reference to compare their dating and romantic relationships. On a website from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, healthfinder.gov, there is a list of things that constitute healthy teen dating relationships. Both parties need to feel valued, respected and supported by each other. Decisions are made through discussion and consensus. Both dating partners maintain friendships and interests outside the romantic relationships. Communication is open and honest. Disagreements are settled by negotiation and compromise. There are more happy times than bad times.
Additional data on healthy relationships is from an article from Stanford University Medical Center on healthy teen relationships. Dating partners need to trust one another. They also need to take responsibility for their own behavior. In abusive and violent dating, the adolescent who is in control blames the victimized party for the abuse.
When teens practice healthy dating, there are many benefits from these relationships. In the latter teen years, adolescents can learn about the opposite sex, learn how to communicate thoughts and feelings, and how to develop new hobbies and interests. One of the best benefits from close teen relationships is learning how their decisions and thinking affects others, provided the others are not abusive and violent. In abusive situations, teens develop distorted self-concepts and unhealthy ways to handle intimate relationships.
In abusive and violent relationships, teens do not learn interpersonal skills, effective problem-solving skills, appropriate empathy, and sound, emotional development. The longer teens stay in abusive relationships, the more they miss -- and the more difficulty they experience getting out.
* Next week's article will discuss how parents can help teens prevent or handle abusive relationships.
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.