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Guest column/Let’s stop teen dating violence before it starts

Parents are roadmaps that their children tend to use to navigate their journeys through life. Some roadmaps are really good, others, not so much. But that doesn’t mean the roadmaps can’t be improved. In fact, the more parents are willing to learn, the better they get at parenting. And it’s vital for parents to understand teen dating violence and how to prepare their offspring to seek healthy relationships throughout their lives.

First you need to understand exactly what teen dating violence is. It is an adverse childhood experience that can occur in person, online or through technology, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can be a form of intimate partner violence: Physical or sexual. It can involve psychological aggression, those verbal or non-verbal cues that harm a partner mentally or emotionally or are tools for controlling a partner.

“Unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime,” the CDC says.

What about economic abuse in teen relationships? How often do parents consider that to be a problem in their teen’s life? The Allstate Foundation and UPMC have partnered in the Futures Without Violence survey to learn more about teen dating violence, including economic abuse which is “a deliberate pattern of control in which individuals interfere with their partner’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain economic resources.” This includes sabotage of academic, career and employment goals; financial control and exploitation of resources. What’s more important to you, studying or me? You never have time for me. Why do you need to go to school, anyway?

The controller wants to keep the victim from pursuing their goals and dreams, hold them back from achieving, preventing them from working at a job or building a career.

The financial control involves getting permission from the controller to spend money, not approving of how the victim spends money, and coercion to buy things for the controller.

Exploitation of the victim’s resources includes sharing user names and passwords to access financial and other personal accounts.

An estimated 1.5 million high school students experience teen dating violence every year, says the CDC. Consequences include depression and anxiety, unhealthy behaviors like use of tobacco, drugs and alcohol; antisocial behaviors like lying, theft, bullying or hitting; and suicidal thoughts.

“Violence in an adolescent relationship sets the stage for problems in future relationships, including intimate partner violence and sexual violence perpetration and/or victimization throughout life,” advises the CDC.

The roadmaps have the opportunity to step up early in the game.

“During the pre-teen and teen years it is critical for youth to begin learning the skills needed to create and maintain healthy relationships. These skills include knowing how to manage feelings and how to communicate in a healthy way,” says the CDC.

To assist parents and care givers of youth, the CDC created the Dating Matters website (www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/datingmatters) with strategies to promote healthy teen relationships and to prevent teen violence before it starts. Teens need to have solid ideas about healthy relationships and financial literacy early on. Mom and Dad, you can guide them.

Family Recovery Center helps families to find ways to navigate through these challenging times. For information about the agency’s treatment and education programs, contact the center at 1010 N. Sixth St., Steubenville; by phone at (740) 283-4946; by e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org; or visit the website familyrecovery.org. Family Recovery Center is funded in part by Jefferson County Prevention and Recovery Board.

(Brownfield is a publicist at the Family Recovery Center.)

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