MEMPHIS, Tenn. – About 1-in-10 teens who have been on a date have also been physically abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the last year according to the Department of Health and Human Services. With Tennessee seeing a growing number of suicides among children ages 10-17, advocates say it’s important to focus on the positive aspects of adolescent relationships during Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
Rikki Harris, CEO of Tennessee Voices for Children, said teens can be hard to read from one day to the next. But values such as mutual respect, respect for individuality, respecting boundaries and positive communication should be reinforced by the adults in their lives.
“Parents can not only cultivate that kind of expectation from a relationship in their children, they can model it as well,” Harris said.
She said parents are key to cultivating positive relationship expectations and should look for warning signs that a teen is in a relationship with a partner or friends who may be too controlling.
Amy Dolinky, East Tennessee regional director with the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, said the dynamics of power and control are different for every couple. But, she said, it’s important to leave the door open for teens to talk to a trusted adult.
One-in-3 teenagers will experience partner abuse of some kind, whether physical or emotional. But only a third of those victims will try to get help. Dolinky said warning signs that someone is caught in an abusive relationship can include isolation, changes in grades, loss of interest in hobbies, or even suicide attempts.
“I think it just really requires that conversation and being present,” Dolinky said; “and really listening and validating that and not tying into, ‘When I was your age, this was my experience,’ or, you know, ‘don’t worry about that break-up, there’s other people out there,’ or, ‘you’re still young.'”
Teens who feel unsafe can start the conversation by texting the crisis line at TN741741 or calling the national domestic violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.