Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month – Protecting our Teens

Much of this article is based on Dr. Jill Murray’s book, But I Love Him: Protecting Your Teen Daughter from Controlling, Abusive Dating Relationships. For more information,reference her book or the other resources listed at the end of the article.

Today’s romance novels and chick flicks are steamier than ever, making teen girls everywhere sigh over the perfect guy and the perfect relationship. Unfortunately, these relationships may not be the kind of thing we want our daughters to aim for.

In Stephanie Meyer’s popular novel Twilight (1), the main character Bella gets into an obsessive and strange relationship with a vampire named Edward. In one particular scene, for instance, he calmly explains: “I like watching you sleep” followed by “I can’t ever lose control of you”… as if that’s totally normal behavior for a man in love.

If this is the kind of thing that our teenage girls are drooling over, it’s no wonder that so many teens get caught up in abusive dating relationships. Thankfully, as parents there is much we can do to protect our daughters (and sons) from teen dating violence.

Teen Dating Violence

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen dating violence is “the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship. (3)” Unfortunately, these “unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime” (4).

And this is all too common among teenagers today. Each year, almost 1.5 million teenagers experience physical abuse, and 1 in 3 teens have experienced some sort of abuse from a dating partner (5). Since violent behavior usually starts between ages 12 and 18, it’s so important that we help protect our children early and prevent teen dating violence (6).

Often times, articles on this subject focus on protecting daughters, but it’s just as important to teach sons about healthy and unhealthy relationships. Many of the same principles can apply as you help your sons learn how they should treat others and how they should be treated in return.

Take Time to Talk

Whether you worry that your son or daughter is in an abusive relationship or you just want to help prevent one, taking time to talk is essential.

If you think your teen’s current relationship is an unhealthy one, make sure you open up “a dialogue rather than an interrogation” (7). Make sure your teen knows that you’re there to support and not to judge. You want your teen to feel comfortable confiding in you so you can be there when he or she needs you most.

Opening up this kind of communication is absolutely essential. As you build up a trusting relationship with your teen, you will be key in teaching them what love is and, perhaps more importantly, what love isn’t.  

Teach What Love Is

When our daughters are young, we taught them all sorts of skills: how to tie their shoes, how to brush their teeth, how to ride a bike. Dr. Murray explains, “Just as you taught [your child] to ride [his or her] first two-wheeler, now is the time to teach what a good relationship should look like and what [he or she] should expect” from a dating partner (8).

As your teenagers are adjusting to puberty, hormones, and romantic relationships, this is a really formative period for them. The CDC describes it as “an ideal time to promote healthy relationships and prevent patterns of dating violence that can last into adulthood” (9).

Here are a few basic aspects of a healthy relationship:

  • Healthy communicationCommunication should be open and honest; no one should be afraid to speak up in a relationship! Both partners should be willing to compromise and to support each other (10).
  • Mutual respect and trust. Both people should feel valued and respect each others’ personal boundaries. Because partners are honest, they should be able to trust each other (11).
  • Individuality and autonomy. Each person in a healthy relationship should feel free to be him- or herself. They should still be able to have their own hobbies and friends without being controlled by their dating partner (12).

While talking about healthy relationships is a great place to start, it’s not enough. If you want your teens to learn what love looks like, you have to show them! As Dr. Murray puts it, “Parents must show as well as tell” their children these things. Why? Because love is a behavior” (13).

You as a parent can be a vital role model as your kids and teens learn what love is. So do your best to exemplify healthy, respectful relationships as you raise your children.

Teach What Love Isn’t

Perhaps just as important as showing and teaching about healthy relationships is teaching what makes a relationship unhealthy. Here are a few of the characteristics of an unhealthy relationship:

  • ControlOne partner tries to control what the other one does or says. This may include isolation from friends and family or constantly keeping track of where the partner is and who he or she is with (14).
  • IntimidationOne partner tries to intimidate the other, sometimes with threats of a break-up or violence (15).
  • HumiliationA partner will put down or humiliate the other. In an unhealthy relationship, people come away feeling worse about themselves instead of better (16).

It’s important to remember that teen dating violence isn’t just physical — it can be verbal and emotional too. In fact, “Statistics show that before any physical abuse takes place in a relationship, there has almost always been a long history of verbal and emotional violence” (17). This can include things like name calling, monopolizing a someone’s time, making him or her feel insecure, or humiliating him or her in public.

While it may be more obvious that hitting or beating are abusive behaviors, we need to teach our kids and teens that there’s more to an unhealthy relationship than just physical scars and bruises. These actions aren’t loving behaviors, but neither is anything controlling, manipulative, or degrading. Our sons and daughters need to understand what Dr. Murray teaches: “Love never involves fear or feeling worse, rather than better, about [oneself]. Ever.” (18)

Helping in the Aftermath

In the event that your son or daughter does get involved in an abusive relationship, here are a few things you can do to help:

  • Get medical help first. If your son or daughter has been physically or sexually assaulted, make sure you get them medical help before anything else. After you know your teen is physically okay, then you can think about involving the law or creating a safety plan (19).
  • Create a safety plan. Together, you can figure out what action to take — whether it be getting a restraining order, getting help from a local domestic violence shelter, or talking to experts on a free hotline.
  • Empower her or him. As you figure out a plan, make sure the decisions are coming from your child (20). While you can and should be a guide for your teen in a situation like this, ultimately the choice needs to be your child’s.

The Ideal Relationship

As we take the time to teach our sons and daughters what love really is, we can help them understand what an ideal relationship actually looks like. It may not be as exciting or mysterious as something they read in Twilight, but real, healthy love is so much better — not to mention safer.

If we help educate our sons and daughters about healthy and unhealthy relationships, we can teach them how to build relationships right. And we can be there for them when relationships sometimes go wrong. With a little bit of work, we can protect our sons and daughters from the dangers of teen dating violence.

For more information:

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Pictures retrieved from http://www.transformed4more.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/cov-infographic.jpg


1. Meyer, S. (2005). Twilight. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

2. Movieclips. (2012, November 15). Twilight (8/11) movie clip – I can never lose control with you (2008) HD [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE71I4X9hWQ

3-4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, August 3). Teen dating violence. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teen_dating_violence.html

5-6. Loveisrespect. (n.d.). Dating abuse statistics. Retrieved from http://www.loveisrespect.org/resources/dating-violence-statistics/

7-8. Murray, J. (2001). But I love him: Protecting your teen daughter from controlling, abusive dating relationships. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Understanding teen dating violence. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/teen-dating-violence-factsheet-a.pdf

10. Loveisrespect. (n.d.). Healthy relationships. Retrieved from http://www.loveisrespect.org/healthy-relationships/

11-12. Youth.gov. (n.d.). Characteristics of healthy & unhealthy relationships. Retrieved from https://youth.gov/youth-topics/teen-dating-violence/characteristics

13. Murray, J. (2001). But I love him: Protecting your teen daughter from controlling, abusive dating relationships. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

14-15. Youth.gov. (n.d.). Characteristics of healthy & unhealthy relationships. Retrieved from https://youth.gov/youth-topics/teen-dating-violence/characteristics

16-19. Murray, J. (2001). But I love him: Protecting your teen daughter from controlling, abusive dating relationships. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

20. Loveisrespect. (n.d.). Get help for someone else: Help my child. Retrieved from http://www.loveisrespect.org/for-someone-else/help-my-child/

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