- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 17, 2009

If you have a teen, will have a teen or are the grandparent of a teen, I think teen dating violence is a topic worthy of your attention.

In a recent relationship-skills class for teens, the facilitator asked the participants what they do when they get angry at their boyfriend or girlfriend.

One young man spoke up and said, “I just choke her.”

When the facilitator told me this story, it made me sick to my stomach — I know this is the reality in many teen dating relationships. More often than not, we are seeing teens who do not know what a healthy dating relationship looks like.

According to a study commissioned by Liz Claiborne and conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited in 2008:

• One in three teenagers report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt by their partner.

• Sixty-two percent of tweens (age 11-14) who have been in a relationship say they know friends who have been verbally abused (called stupid, worthless, ugly, etc.) by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

• Only half of tweens claim to know the warning signs of a bad or hurtful relationship.

• Nearly one in five teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend had threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a break-up.

• Nearly 80 percent of girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationships continue to date their abuser.

Studies conducted by the National Center for Victims of Crime indicate that teen dating violence runs across race, gender and socioeconomic lines. Males and females are victims, but boys and girls are abusive in different ways. Girls are more likely to yell, threaten to hurt themselves, pinch, slap, scratch or kick. Boys injure girls more severely and frequently.

A comparison of rates of intimate-partner violence between teens and adults reveals that teens are at higher risk in intimate-partner abuse.

Is your teen at risk? Does he or she know the warning signs of an abusive relationship? Would you as a parent recognize the symptoms?

If you are wondering whether your teen is in an unhealthy relationship, here are some warning signs from the Love is Not Abuse Web site (www.loveisnot abuse.com):

• She apologizes for his behavior and makes excuses for him.

• She loses interest in activities she used to enjoy.

• She stops seeing friends and family members and becomes more and more isolated.

• When your daughter and her boyfriend are together, he calls her names and puts her down in front of other people.

• He acts extremely jealous of others who pay attention to her, especially other guys.

• He thinks or tells your daughter that you don’t like him.

• He controls her behavior, checking up on her constantly, calling and paging her, demanding to know who she has been with.

• She casually mentions his violent behavior, but laughs it off as a joke.

• You see him violently lose his temper, striking or breaking objects.

• She often has unexplained injuries, or the explanations she offers don’t make sense.

Teens need to understand that hitting their girlfriend or boyfriend is a crime. This is an important conversation for parents to have with their sons and daughters. There are a number of excellent resources available to assist you in talking with your teen about dating violence, including www.loveisnotabuse.com and www.loveisrespect.org.

Being aware of the warning signs of violence and taking action can not only prevent the wrong types of relationships from taking place, but it also can put an end to the cycle of abuse in which your teen or his or her friends may already be involved.

Julie Baumgardner is the executive director of First Things First, an organization dedicated to strengthening marriages and families through education, collaboration and mobilization. She can be reached at [email protected]

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