Another caution: Teens who will not spend time with friends unless they have “permission” from the teen they are dating likely are in an abusive dating relationship.
Teens should stay on alert for other controlling and violent behaviors by their date, such as extreme jealousy, unpredictable mood swings, use of force during an argument, cruelty to animals and children, online bullying and threats of violence.
A national survey revealed that only one-third of teenagers who are victimized by their date ever tell anyone they know about the abuse or violence. Teens should be encouraged to speak up and seek the help they need. Local services and assistance can be located by calling 800-656-HOPE.
Most importantly, Exner-Cortens said, adults need to model and discuss healthy relationships.
“That’s the thing we’re really striving for,” she said. “Some things that are in a healthy dating relationship are respect, safety, support, honesty, good communication and equality. We really want to focus on those characteristics with adolescents.”
The sooner, the better.
“Middle school is a great time to start communicating about healthy relationships and dating violence, even before your child starts dating,” Exner-Cortens advised. “By doing that, kids will know that the parent is someone they can go to for help if they start to feel concerned or worried about a relationship that they’re in.”
State law requires schools to teach students about healthy dating relationships, and community organizations also can influence healthy dating behaviors. The Indiana Attorney General’s Office hosts the Indiana Safe Student Initiative, providing training to teachers and youth workers about how to talk with teens about healthy relationships and preventing dating violence.
“Education is key here,” said Abigail Kuzma, deputy attorney general. “As kids start into dating relationships, they’re inexperienced, and they’re going to have questions. The media, the movies we watch, what the kids are saying to each other, gets to be very confusing. A child may not know what normal is in a relationship and may be more vulnerable [to teen dating violence].”
As prom season approaches, we need to model healthy behavior and help teens stay safe in their dating relationships — now, and for their futures.
— Bill Stanczykiewicz is president and chief executive officer of Indiana Youth Institute. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org