October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Parents, pastors, teachers and youth pastors did you know:
40% of girls age 14 to 17 report knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend
Nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend had threatened violence or self-harm if the couple were to break up
1 in 3 teenage girls has feared for her safety in a dating relationship
It’s important that adults as well as teenagers understand what a healthy dating relationship looks like and to be able to identify the first signs that the dating relationship may be unhealthy and potentially abusive.
People usually put their best foot forward in dating relationships. It’s not always easy to tell whether a dating relationship is healthy. Here are four early warning signs that your teen’s dating relationship is unhealthy and may become abusive:
She’s afraid to say no or disappoint her boyfriend. You notice that she is always giving in, forsaking her favorite activates, family outings or her own academic goals/needs to accommodate her boyfriend and his needs/wants.
She feels smothered. What young woman wouldn’t love to hear, “You complete me” or “I need you so much” or “I’m so into you.” It’s intoxicating to her ego and can dull a young woman’s radar. Early in a dating relationship, a young girl is often totally swept off her feet by an intense young man’s obsessive love for her. It feels so seductive that she starts to believe it is true love. But overtime, her freedom to make her own choices gets smaller and smaller and she starts feeling smothered. As she tries to assert her own needs and feelings, it can turn abusive.
She feels overly responsible. When a young woman stops having her own dreams and living her own life and moves into a care-taking, care-giving role in a dating relationship, she is becoming unhealthy and the relationship is unhealthy. If there is an abusive incident, she tells herself it’s her fault. She should have tried harder to love him better or not said how she felt, or done what he wanted, or not spent time doing what she was doing. In other words, she is beginning to believe the lie that she exists to make him happy and his world work well and, if she fails, it’s her fault and she deserves whatever punishment he gives her.
She is isolating. One of the most effective tactics of abusers is that they isolate so that control over their victim grows stronger. If a young woman is not participating in her regular social outlets, she stops spending time with her girlfriends or she refuses to interact with her family as she once did, consider the possibility that she is being persuaded and encouraged or even threatened to cut off ties with others. Isolation will lead her to become more and more dependent on him as her sole source of support, leaving her confused and brainwashed into his way of thinking.
What can we do? It’s absolutely crucial that we educate young people on healthy relationships beginning way before the dating years. All too often we make a huge assumption that if someone claims to be Christian, they are, and that everything else becomes secondary. That is not true. We need to teach our children in the middle school years, not only to be aware of bullies, but also how to make healthy friendships.
For example, it’s important that we teach girls why they must learn to say “no” early in relationships. For example, have her pay attention to what happens with a new friend when she says to him, “No, I can’t talk on the phone right now I have a test to study for or home work to do.” Is there respect for her needs? Does he care about what’s important to her or is their relationship all about making him or her happy and doing what he wants? Is she free to express her different opinions as well as her own thoughts and feelings without fear? Honestly answering these simple questions can give her a good read as to the health of the relationship early in the relationship before she gets emotionally involved.
If you suspect your daughter or someone you know is being abused, ask the following questions:
Does he seem like two people, showing one face to his friends and the public and another to you in private?
Does he go through a cycle of buildup, explosion and contrition?
Has he been violent with you? Once? Twice? Have these been isolated events tied to a particular triggering situation or does his abusiveness seem to occur for no apparent reason?
Is his physical attack accompanied by verbal assaults such as calling you names or swearing at you?
Have there been circumstances (such as separations or jealousies) that might have triggered the violence? How did he act?
Have you ever missed school or work from the effects of abuse?
Have you ever used makeup or dark glasses to hide bruises or have you covered up by making excuses to a doctor or coworker for injuries sustained during an attack?
If she’s answered yes to any of these questions, she may need some professional help to break free from the abuse. Don’t ignore these warning signs. She is at risk, and she needs your help.