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Welcome to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC’s podcast series. Today we’ll be talking about the real dangers of relationship violence in teens, and tips for safe dating.
As parents, we want to do everything to protect our children. But there comes a time when children become teenagers, and we can’t protect them from everything.
One in three high school students, especially young women, experience some form of dating violence, which is when one partner tries to assert control over the other through physical or emotional abuse.
This is certainly a serious and delicate subject – so let’s talk a little more about dating violence in teens and what we as parents can do to prevent it and prepare our children to deal with it, should the situation occur. Today we’re joined by Dr. Pam Murray, who is the director of adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Murray, why do teenagers typically hide violence in their relationships from their parents?
Pam Murray: Well, for most teenagers, their relationships as teenagers are their first serious relationships – because of the media we are exposed to, most teenagers, especially girls, have a romantic view of relationships and love. This often manifests itself in all-consuming, jealous, or possessive relationships.
Teenagers also want to start becoming independent from their parents, and see romantic relationships as one way to “grow up” and have their own lives, separate from that of their parents. They may also be afraid to speak up, either to their parents or other people, because they think they’ve done something wrong or that they’ll be in trouble.
Host: What part do the abusers play in these relationships?
Pam Murray: For the purposes of this discussion, and because statistics show that males are often the abusers, we will talk about abusers as males. Males often see physical aggressiveness and possessiveness as forms of “masculinity.” Society also teaches men that attentive- or supportiveness are signs of weakness.
Abusers often also recognize that they’ve done something wrong after the abuse has taken place, and are likely to be especially attentive or bring flowers during the next interaction, which leads the abused partner to think that it won’t happen again, or that he “didn’t really mean it.”
Host: What are some warning signs of relationship abuse?
Pam Murray: The biggest warning sign of relationship abuse in teenagers is isolation – when they no longer want to spend time with their family or friends, and tend to spend all or most of their time with their partner, they become totally obsessed with maintaining the relationship. This can be especially dangerous because when a couple spends all of their time together, an abuser can easily “brainwash” their partner and make them feel that they don’t have anywhere or anyone else to go to.
Other signs of abuse are physical signs of abuse, failing grades, or disinterest in things they had previously spent a lot of time doing. Abused teens will also defend their partner irrationally and have emotional outbursts.
Host: What can we do if we think or know that our children are involved in an abusive relationship?
Pam Murray: Be supportive. If a teenager feels alienated by their family, they are even more likely to sink into the abusive relationship. Try to spend time as a family and do things that they used to be interested in – showing them that there are people who love them unconditionally and without the abusive piece, they are more likely to reject the abusive relationship.
If your teenager does speak up, let them talk it out, and be totally and completely supportive. Don’t ask them why they haven’t broken up, or why they are in the relationship – instead, remind them that they are loved and that you will do anything to help them. If they are willing, help them to make a plan to get out of the relationship.
Host: How can we prevent this from happening to our children?
Pam Murray: Model respectful relationships. Children and teenagers learn their behavior mostly from their parents, and when they see parents who love and respect each other, they are more likely to have high self-respect and be less likely to tolerate abuse.
Provide them with information about relationship and sex – while it can be an uncomfortable topic, teenagers who feel that they can communicate openly with their parents usually have a better sense of self and are more likely to be honest about their relationships.
Host: Dr. Murray, would you mind giving some advice to any teens listening about preventing abuse in their relationships?
Pam Murray: Sure! Start out slowly – you want to know this person before you get too involved or too deep into a relationship. Consider double dating at first, have set plans for a date, make sure someone (like a parent) knows where you will be at all times.
Also, watch for some warning signs – if your partner gets overly jealous, doesn’t like you to spend time with other people, is moody or angry, or is verbally abusive – this behavior is likely to escalate.
Mostly, trust your instincts. No one should make you feel uncomfortable, and if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, stay calm and think of a way to leave the situation safely.
Host: Thank you, Dr. Murray, for giving us such a wealth of information on this very serious and important subject. Remember, communicate with your kids – they’re the best source of information about what’s going on in their lives.
To learn more visit Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC’s Injury Prevention website.
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