How to recognize the warning signs of teen dating violence

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PHOTO | JASON LEUNG
Parents should be proactive in spotting the signs of teen dating violence, but advocacy can come from anyone anywhere.

Parents often dread when their teenager starts dating.

So many things may be running through their head. Who is this person my son or daughter is dating? What are their intentions?

Parents have every right to be concerned because dating can be dangerous with more teens having cell phones, social media, and connecting with people who may not be of good influence. But how can you protect your children from toxic intimate relationships?

With countless stories of young Black women who have died after meeting someone online, it’s time for an overdue discussion on teen dating violence.

“There are high rates of domestic violence in African American populations and violence that seems disproportionate or that is disproportionate to other races too,” said Kelly Moriarty, trauma injury prevention coordinator at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. “So, I think it’s all kind of connected and if you’re seeing unhealthy relationships in your household and in your communities, you’re going to be more likely to kind of fall victim to that just because you don’t maybe have a role model for a healthy relationship.”

TDV is referred to as “threatened acts perpetuated by an adolescent against a current or former dating partner” by the Institute of Domestic Violence in The African American Community. This form of intimate partner violence can be physical, sexual, or verbal abuse, or stalking.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 1 in 11 high school girls experienced physical dating violence compared to 1 in 14 boys. Even though the CDC found young boys were more at risk, Black teen girls still account for more cases.

In 2016, the IDVAA found that Black teenagers ages 12-18 years old were underrepresented among teens that experience dating violence.

“I want to know how [the CDC] define it,” said Oliver Williams, a professor at the University of Minnesota and former executive director of IDVAAC. “Women can initiate violence as well as men, but the portions are different. There’s much higher rates of men being the primary aggressor and abusive than there are women. Women can be abusive, but I haven’t noticed them being more harmful.”

Black females in grades 9-12 make up 12% of cases compared to white girls their age according to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Their Black male counterparts make up 8% of cases, twice the rate of white male students.

With rates higher in teen boys, it raises the issue that physical abuse is often not discussed in males.

“I think a lot of it is not even understanding that maybe they’re at risk for this type of violence,” Moriarty said. “But I do think that times are changing a little bit and people are starting to talk more about it.”

With so many teens having cellphones, social media, and various apps downloaded on their phones, stalking has become more common.

Online dating issues
Often, teens and young adults are quick to befriend people online and fail to realize the danger and scrutiny that can come from a simple friendship.

“Teens are not really understanding what a healthy relationship looks like, and understanding how to set personal boundaries,” Moriarty said.

Lately, the news has been filled with young Black women who are “unexpectedly” found dead after going on a date with someone they met online.

People on social media have been raising awareness for how the criminal justice system fails to investigate Black women who are reported missing after going out on a date with a stranger.

A recent trend circulating on social media is older men who are framing as “sugar daddies” in search of young women or girls to shower them with gifts which can include a fixed monthly allowance in exchange for companionship and sex. Most “sugar babies” will have a sugar daddy to cover their expenses but often these men are married and want something more. Although this trend is more common in college students and young adults, teens can also be exposed on social media or dating apps.

“It’s very easy to disguise who you are when you’re behind a computer screen,” Moriarty said. “It’s important to just start by having those conversations with your kids.”

With all these situations occurring online, its imperative for parents to monitor who their child is connected to.

Staying involved
Certain risk factors can explain why intimate partner violence could be common in Black teens.

According to a 2016 study by the IDVAA, risk factors include:

• Domestic violence seen at home or among extended family and friends

• Befriending anti-social peers such as gang members or peers who accept violence in relationships as normal

• Having a friend involved in an abusive relationship


The report also found that Black girls affiliated with a gang, a gang member, or street-oriented youth are at an increased risk of TDV compared to girls who have no such affiliation.

Youth who are victims of dating violence in high school are more likely to be victims in college and later in life, according to the CDC. How can you protect your child from this type of brutality?

For starters, be an active parent and know what’s going on with your teen.

Have conversations with your children to educate them on what domestic violence is and looks like. With younger kids, make the dialogue age-appropriate but also thorough enough where the child can understand. Also, when your child does start dating or a new relationship, be aware of the signs of violence. Some of the obvious signs of physical abuse are unexplained injuries. But also pay attention to other signs of abuse such as withdrawal from normal activities or falling grades.

“If you notice your teen is kind of withdrawing, that could be a sign that something else is going on,” Moriarty said. “And so, if that’s happening, it’s definitely time to have a talk and kind of investigate a little bit more.”

Aaliyah Bowden, who covers health for The Post, is a Report For America corps member.

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