After my son Eddie failed to deliver a glass of water in a timely manner last spring, his girlfriend assaulted him. Scratch marks were etched into the back of his neck. The attack from behind was capped with Eddie’s iPhone being shattered and an array of threats.
A considerable amount of fatherly advice has been dispensed over the years, but my children and I have never discussed teen dating violence. I never thought of it, but I should have considering some experiences I had in my youth.
When I was 17, my girlfriend of the same age implored me to strike her, which shocked me. We broke up after her odd request. A college girlfriend, who was 19, once told me my problem was that I was too nice and that women only respect guys who beat them. She detailed some of her disturbingly violent relationships.
But I never even considered laying a hand on a woman. The only discussion I had with Eddie was to respect women and to certainly never strike a female. I never thought about a girl potentially attacking him.
The few friends I spoke to about the dilemma offered little feedback. My take on domestic violence has pretty much been that it’s between adults. However, I discovered that teens battering each other is prevalent.
February is Teen Dating Violence Prevention Month. Thirty-three percent of teens experience dating abuse, and 66% of those teens never mention it, according to Dr. Denise Hines, an associate professor of social work in George Mason’s College of Health and Human Services and the author of “Family Violence in the United States: Defining, Understanding and Combating Abuse.”
“Recent data suggests that about 20% of teens over age 13 who are dating experience physical dating violence,” Hines said from her office in Fairfax, Virginia. “Rates of relationship violence are highest in the youngest age groups and then consistently decline with age. This decline begins in the mid-20s. So, relationship violence is actually less likely among adults than among teens.”
I never would have guessed it, but it makes sense since children and young adults make an inordinate amount of questionable decisions before their frontal lobe is fully formed. How many times have my kids made a poor choice behind the wheel, sending my car to the shop for body work? How often have my sons tried to shortcut an assignment in school?
I was taken aback when it comes to teen dating violence since my daughter Jillian never had an abusive boyfriend. I never expected that my sons would be attacked. But I learned after the assault that teenage boys are often victims of abuse.
“Relationship violence victimization is actually just as common among male teens as it is among female teens, but we don’t talk about it,” Hines said. That makes sense. If women hide the shame of being battered, certainly men would even be more apt to do the same. According to Hines, teens must talk about violence and learn about what can be done.
“We need to open the discussion and education about healthy relationships and dating violence prevention to include girls’ behavior against boys as well as boys’ behavior against girls,” Hines said. “We also need to discuss relationship violence in LGBTQ+ relationships.
“We typically only focus on boys’ behavior against girls, but relationship violence is much broader than that. The breadth of who can perpetrate and be victimized by relationship violence needs to be publicized and talked about more widely.”
Mothers and fathers can be proactive when it comes to preparing their children for teen dating. “Parents can model healthy relationship behavior,” Hines said.
“They can talk with their kids about healthy relationship behavior and point out and discuss unhealthy behaviors. They can advocate for healthy relationship programs and dating violence prevention programs in their schools. There are many good ones out there such as Safe Dates.
For those plagued by this problem, check out the informative book “Safe Dates: An Adolescent Dating Abuse Prevention” by Stacey A. Langwick and Vangie Foshee.
Therapy helped Eddie bounce back and deal with the trauma and the reality that his co-dependent relationship wasn’t healthy. “I strongly recommend therapy,” Hines said. “Among the male victims of relationship abuse I’ve researched, therapy is one of the most helpful things they’ve done for themselves.”
The resources are out there for those in troubled teen relationships. However, for anything to be accomplished, it’s up to the parents to change their child’s course. “It’s incumbent on the parents to be the communicators since they are the adults,” Hines said.
When Eddie, who was 17 when he was assaulted, slipped into his downward spiral courtesy of his choices and a relationship from hell, someone had to toss him a life preserver, and I knew that duty fell onto my shoulders.
Eddie was reluctant as any teen to visit a therapist to talk out his situation. But it was probably the second-best parenting decision I made with Eddie. I’ll never forget when Eddie was trying to enter the world during childbirth. The crown of his head was visible, and the attending physician was literally shaking.
I exited and asked for help, and another doctor made sure that Eddie entered the world. I was so thankful since the umbilical cord was wrapped around Eddie’s neck, and he was taken immediately to ICU. Who knows how much his life would have changed if I didn’t make the choice to ask for help?
Making tough decisions is part of a parent’s job. Setting a standard for your child and helping them when they need it the most is what we signed on for at the very beginning.
We lead by our actions, and hopefully when Eddie is a parent, he knows more than I did, and he can become a fine father who will direct his children through all the trials and tribulations that they will potentially experience.
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