Helping Parents Navigate Teen Dating Violence

By Tara Davis, Directorate of Prevention, Resilience and ReadinessFebruary 27, 2024

You’ve made your way from sleepless nights during infancy to arguing with your child as a preteen about wearing those ripped jeans to middle school or keeping their hoodie on 24/7, and just when you think the waters are calming, your now high schooler smiles while looking down at their phone and tells you they have a boyfriend or girlfriend. I’m betting you are wishing your next conversation was going to be about those jeans.

No parent wants to imagine their teen as a victim of teen dating violence (TDV). This is why Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, recognized each year in February, serves to raise awareness and promote safe, healthy relationships. TDV is an adverse childhood experience and a type of intimate partner violence. TDV is common, and some teens are at a greater risk than others. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 1 in 12 U.S. high school students experienced physical dating violence and/or sexual dating violence.

“Kids want to fit in and sometimes will find themselves dealing with peer pressures of many sorts that potentially could result in toxic relationships,” says Dr. Carmen Leggett, FAP specialist at the Army’s DCS G-9 Family Advocacy Program. Just like talking to your teen about safe driving before handing over the keys to your car, it’s important to talk to them about intimate relationships, even if it's awkward at first. Teens are just learning to navigate relationships and may not recognize that extreme jealousy or teasing can turn into what they see frequently referred to as “red flags” on social media.

“During the preteen and teen years, it is crucial for youths to learn and adopt healthy and effective communication skills, along with learning how to manage their feelings,” says Leggett. Leggett further emphasizes the importance of parents spending time talking with their children about defining relationships. This includes explanations of setting boundaries, respecting others' space and demonstrating respect and consideration. She also notes that parents should allow children to be honest and share their feelings around dating and that fostering these skills will help them create and maintain healthy relationships.

As a teen once yourself, you can probably remember a time where your friends’ influence outweighed your parents’ influence. Your teens’ friends might think that name-calling or rough physical play is normal, so make sure to discuss with your teen the signs of unhealthy and healthy relationships. According to Leggett, “Signs of an unhealthy relationship might look like an imbalance of power and control between partners resulting in poor communication, inequality, lack of respect and lack of honesty. These relationships are full of control, manipulation, isolation and accusations. This abuse can take place in person, verbally or digitally on the phone and via other teens.” Leggett explains that signs of a healthy relationship are effective communication, trust, respect, consideration, honesty, equality and consent. One tool parents and teens can use to help identify behaviors of an abusive relationship is the Power and Control Wheel.

Leggett shares that teens typically do not report the abuse/violence they experience because they are embarrassed, afraid or feel alone. Use February as your time to initiate the conversation with your teen about healthy and unhealthy relationships. Parents can use the FAP resources, such as parenting classes that focus on teens and bullying, to navigate these tough conversations. FAP can also team up with a teen center or school to conduct outreach, seminars and programs on TDV.

For more information on the FAP, visit the Directorate of Prevention, Resilience and Readiness