by D. Bryant Simmons
Dating abuse is a reality not often discussed when the topic turns to domestic violence. Adults tend to dismiss the social interactions of pre-teens and teens as puppy love—immature and unequal to the romantic relationships between adults. Well, did you know that one out of three adolescent girls has been a victim of verbal, physical, or emotional abuse from someone they dated?i And nearly half of teenage girls know someone that is dealing with dating abuse.ii What you don’t know about your kid’s relationship with their boyfriend or girlfriend could be the makings of a life or death situation.
Before dating becomes a possibility, before the “first kiss, there are four questions every mother and father should ask their daughter.
1. Do you know what makes you special?
Ignore her awkwardness and wait patiently for a real answer. The goal is not for her to state the obvious, that she’s tall or athletic or has a decent head of hair. The answer has to be more than skin-deep. Affirm the qualities that she’s recognized and add a few of your own. Give her examples. Remember the time that you….I was so proud because….
2. When you start dating what rights do you have?
She has the right to end the relationship at any time. She has the right to withhold consent for anything at anytime. If she doesn’t think of these rights describe situations where she would want to enact these rights to help her understand each one. Then restate the rights in a concise manner like above.
3. When dating what responsibilities do you have? To yourself, to the other person, and to your family?
This is your opportunity to lay out any rules you may have and dispel any dating myths. For instance, if a date spends a lot of money on you, then you owe him….
4. How do you set boundaries and how do you respond when someone disrespects those boundaries?
State clearly and explicitly what you expect and why at the beginning of a relationship. Have a no-tolerance policy regarding your physical and mental safety. No-tolerance means no second chances. If someone crosses the line tell your best friend, your parents, someone who cares about you. Ask for their support. Then report the person to the authorities. Do not let them get away without legal consequences and a permanent record. End all contact with the person.
You may have doubts about bringing law enforcement into this. We are talking about adolescents and teenagers here, right? They’re young. They can still change. Well, people do not change their behavior when the behavior doesn’t result in significant consequences. Here’s some more food for thought. If it happens again, this time to a different girl, and this time he goes even further the police will have to take it seriously. His parents will have to take it seriously because now we’ve established a pattern.
Encouraging a no-tolerance policy is the only way to say unequivocally to our girls, “That is unacceptable. You deserve better.” And have them believe it.