Dating Violence Defined
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, dating violence is controlling, abusive, and aggressive behavior in a romantic relationship. It can include verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, or a combination.1
Anyone can be a victim of dating violence. Both boys and girls are victims, but boys and girls abuse their partners in different ways. Girls are more likely to yell, threaten to hurt themselves, pinch, slap, scratch, or kick. Boys injure girls more and are more likely to punch their partner and force them to participate in unwanted sexual activity. Some teen victims experience physical violence only occasionally; others, more often.2
Here are some common warning signs that may indicate a teen girl or teen boy is in an abusive dating relationship:
- Radical change in behavior—teen seems anxious, depressed, hypersensitive, withdrawn
- Ceases activities once enjoyed
- Distances self from family and friends—especially if teen previously enjoyed a close relationship with those individuals
- Decrease in academic performance
- Seems uninterested in physical appearance or personal hygiene
- Dresses inappropriately for season or situation—wears coats, heavy jackets, sweaters, or sweatshirts in summer weather; or wears sunglasses on cloudy or rainy days or indoors
- Receives an inordinate number of phone calls or text messages from dating partner—or partner always seems to be around
- Seems afraid of dating partner, or either defends or takes blame for partner’s bad behavior
- Has unexplained bruises, or offers unbelievable or vague explanations for bruises3
How Parents and Pastors Can Help
Here are a few guidelines for parents and pastors to follow if they suspect a teen is being victimized by an intimate partner:
- Recognize the reality of dating violence—there are teens living in our communities, sometimes even our homes, and worshipping in our churches who are in abusive relationships.
- Make the safety of a victimized teen top priority—while appropriate to also worry about the well-being of an abusive teen and to pray for her or him, the number-one concern needs to be for the safety and well-being of a victim-survivor.
- Listen to and talk with teens—treat them like young adults, not little children
- As parents, have candid and open discussions with teens about human sexuality—speak with your daughters and sons about your beliefs, expectations, and values about human sexuality, but without making statements that seem judgmental or appear to be ultimatums.
- Maintain open lines of communications—avoid harshly judging the choices made by teens, even when these conflict with your beliefs and values. The goal is to stay connected.
- Teach the equal value and worth of females and males—abuse and violence against women, young and old, is often encouraged or excused by the male hierarchical teachings and traditions taught by clergy, Christian educators, parents, youth pastors, and overall society. Although these constructs do not cause teen dating or adult intimate partner abuse, some males use them as rationalizations for whatever they choose to do to females. In turn, hierarchical teachings cause women and girls to internalize their alleged “God-ordained” subservient role in both church and society.
- Seek education and training—parents and pastors can be tremendous resources to victimized teens, those who perpetrate abuse, and to other concerned family members and friends of both. But we must first receive appropriate education and training.
- Get support for yourself—in the midst of caring for daughters and sons affected by dating violence, it is important for parents to seek support for themselves. Counselors, family members, friends, clergy, Christian educators, youth ministers, and youth workers can provide guidance, a listening ear, and prayer in the midst of overwhelming situations.4
1. The National Center for Victims of Crime, “Bulletins for Teens: Dating Violence.” Available online atwww.victimsofcrime.org/help-for-crime-victims/get-help, accessed December 14, 2013.
3. Al Miles, Ending Violence in Teen Dating Relationships: A Resource Guide for Parents and Pastors (Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2005), 42–43.