When love hurts: Your teen and dating violence
A Cook Children’s expert looks at violence in teenage relationships
The news of a 17-year-old male high school student arrested in connection with the death of a 16-year-old girl leaves us all shaken and disturbed.
Irving Police said the boy admitted to choking to death his ex-girlfriend, but his unsolicited confession came before he had his rights read to him.
Although the story is sad and shocking to us, it’s all too common.
When it comes to relationships, teens are the most common age group to experience dating violence, and dating inexperience is often to blame.
“Many teens in danger don’t realize their relationships are unhealthy or that certain behaviors are inappropriate,” said Jamye Coffman, M.D., medical director of the Cook Children’s CARE (Child Advocacy Resource and Evaluation) team. “Abuse doesn’t always involve physical assault, and many inexperienced teens and young adults view threats jealousy and controlling behaviors as signs of love.”
An estimated one in three teenagers is in an abusive relationship.
Because abuse is common in teenage relationships, it’s important for parents to talk with their children about the signs of abuse and the components of a healthy relationship before teens start dating. Parents should also model respectful behaviors in their own relationships.
“Explain that partners should respect and support one another and maintain safe boundaries,” Coffman said. “If you are worried, you can say, ‘I’m concerned about our current relationship, and I want to make sure this is a healthy one for you.’ By maintaining a healthy, respectful relationship with your teenager, you can keep communication open.”
Unfortunately, many of these relationships by teens are carried over into adulthood.
If teenagers are in an abusive relationship and want to break up, support from family and friend is essential. According to Dr. Coffman, teenagers should always carry a cell phone so they can call for help if necessary. They should also never end an abusive relationship when they are alone.
If teens attend school with their significant other, the school needs to be aware of the situation to prevent retaliation from occurring during the school day.
“The break-up period is the most dangerous time for abuse to occur or escalate,” Dr. Coffman said. “Parents need to help their children develop a plan, which should include ways to maintain safety. It’s also important for parents to recognize that girls are not the only ones at risk for abuse, and abuse doesn’t only happen in heterosexual relationships.”
The following signs indicate teenagers may be in unhealthy relationships:
- Checking their significant other’s email, text messages or voicemail without permission.
- Mood swings.
- Offhand comments intended to degrade or put down, which are often written off as joking or teasing.
- Withdrawal from friends, family and favorite activities.
- Unexplained bruises or physical injuries.
The same narcissistic behaviors in men that kill children are also seen in domestic violence, so it is no surprise that 50 percent of children living in a home with domestic violence suffer physical abuse. Read more on how to spot a narcissist here.
Seventy-five percent of domestic violence homicides occur after the victim has decided to leave the relationship and their partner feels a loss of control. In most cases, victims are killed with guns.
Most domestic violence murders follow a pattern. According to the United States Department of Justice, there are certain ominous risk factors that point toward an imminent threat of death. The numbers in parenthesis indicate the factor by which a domestic violence victim's risk of homicide is increased relative to other domestic violence victims.
- Partner used or threatened with a weapon (20.2x)
- Partner threatened to kill woman (14.9x)
- Partner tried to choke or strangle woman (9.9x)
- Partner violently and constantly jealous (9.2x)
- Woman forced to have sex when not wanted (7.6x)
- Gun in the house (6.1x)
- Physical violence increased in severity (5.2x)
- Partner controls most or all of the woman’s daily activities (5.1x)
- Physical violence increased in frequency (4.3x)
- Partner uses illicit drugs (4.2x)
- Partner drunk every day or almost every day (4.1x)
- Woman beaten while pregnant (3.8x)
- Woman believed he was capable of killing her (3.3x)
- Partner reported for child abuse (2.9x)
- Partner violent outside the home (2.2x)
- Partner threatened or tried to commit suicide (1.3x)
- Victim threatened or tried to commit suicide (0.5x)
- *Domestic Violence Homicide Risk Assessment, USDOJ
The best thing a friend can do is help a woman suffering from domestic violence to connect with people who can get her out of her situation so she can develop a safe plan to reclaim her life. If you are in the Fort Worth area, contact One Safe Place to learn more about domestic violence, support victims, or to receive help. Nationally, call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-SAFE (7233).