Parents, others on front lines as teen dating violence continues to rise

Published: Friday, March 1 2013 6:15 p.m. MST

Social media sites, cellphones and other technologies provide "a new tool in the toolbox to do that for those who are inclined to harass and abuse," Zweig said.

The survey found that nearly all of those digitally abused experienced other harm, too — 84 percent suffered psychological abuse, 52 percent physical abuse and 32 percent sexual coercion. That last number is five-fold that of teens who are in non-abusive relationships.

Girls were more likely to be abused than boys. Girls were also more likely to be nonsexual if they abused.

Role models

Parents are on the front lines of stopping — or, better yet — preventing abuse between teens who are dating. However, much of the work must be done before abuse starts. It begins with mentoring and messages from a young age, says Brian Pinero, director of services for Love Is Respect, which partners with another Austin, Texas-based, group called Breakthecycle.org to combat abuse between teens.

Kids need role models, he said, and that means "more than just 'I love your father.' It's talking about important things, such as, 'The one thing I love best about my relationship with your father is that we're allowed to be individuals.' Fathers can talk with sons: 'One of the things I love best about your mother is that she does have friends outside of me and we have personalities that are different and I'm comfortable with that because that makes her who she is. That makes our relationship better.'"

It is vital, Pinero said, to talk honestly about things that children may not be able to see but that make up a healthy relationship.

"It's all about creating space for people to have lives outside their relationships and to see that they don't depend on relationships for everything," he said. "I think that's absolutely one of the biggest things that an adult can do for a young person."

The report recommends some school-based prevention programs that are being implemented around the country. They're new and are being evaluated; no one is sure yet that they will be effective. But school is a natural place to implement cures for the problem, since it's a place where much of the abuse take place.

Social media sites could be helpful, too, Zweig noted. "Although technology is obviously a source of risk for youth, it's also a source of opportunity for prevention programs and media campaigns. It can be used for good to do public health messaging around prevention."

Papa bear

Many parents make things worse or deflate an adolescent's ability to cope without meaning to, Pinero said.

"When teens are having relationships, parents have the desire to control that relationship, like 'nobody's going to treat you like that. I won't tolerate it.' But the bigger thing is to start looking at the young person as the decisionmaker in their life."

Asking "are you OK with that" is a good way to get a teen to think about boundaries and what isn't acceptable. It helps the teen develop both judgment and confidence. By creating a conversational space to discuss it, "that helps a young person shape their decisions. 'No, I actually don't like this.' I think parents just have a tendency to jump in and take over and 'that is not what your relationships should look like.'

"When you jump into the relationship, telling a teen what to do or not do, you disempower that youth and may actually drive him or her into the relationship that worries you." The magic words are, "How do you want me to support you?" Pinero said.

He tells teens if a partner won't let them set boundaries or respect them, be wary. "Anyone should be able to say they don't want someone to send texts from their phone or log into the other's accounts. Youths should be able to choose their friends without a partner trying to isolate them. It's okay to say, 'When I'm doing homework, I don't want to text.'"

Someone who won't respect those boundaries is not the right partner.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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