Warning signs for identifying teen dating violence

The suburb of Wayland, MA, was stripped of its quiet, small town image this week when an 18-year-old resident was found violently murdered in a local marsh. The suspected killer is another 18-year-old Wayland resident, and the victim’s former boyfriend.

“I did know [the victim] and the alleged assailant, and people are very, very sad and confused,” Wayland High Principal Pat Tutwiler told the Boston Herald. “I would say that there’s no such thing as a community where things like this don’t happen.”

Unfortunately, Principal Tutwiler’s quote is frighteningly accurate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every ten teenagers has experienced some form of dating violence.

With such high incidence of dating violence among young people, it’s very possible your child or someone they know is in an unhealthy relationship. To help keep teens safe, here are some important dating violence safety tips and facts for parents and teenagers from the Massachusetts Medical Society and Children’s Hospital Boston’s Center for Young Women’s Health.

Does your teenager seem anxious, or dangerously preoccupied with the person she is dating? It could be the signs of an unhealthy relationship.

Warning signs for parents that your teen may be a victim of dating violence

Teenagers can be a moody bunch. Sudden changes in attitude or behavior could be a normal part of development, or could indicate an unhealthy relationship. If you suspect the latter, here are some behaviors to be on the look out for:

  • Failing grades or dropping out of school activities.
  • Avoiding friends.
  • Difficulty making decisions.
  • Sudden changes in mood or personality, becoming anxious or depressed, acting out, being secretive.
  • Bruises, scratches, or other injuries.
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits, avoiding eye contact, having ‘crying jags’ or getting ‘hysterical.’
  • Constantly thinking about dating partner.
  • Using alcohol or drugs.
  • Pregnancy – some teenagers believe that having a baby will help make things better; some girls are forced to have sex.

Warning signs for teens that they may be in an unhealthy relationship. Unwanted physical contact, in any form, is abuse. But hitting and shoving aren’t the only forms of abuse; there are many ways in which a relationship can go from healthy to unhealthy. Here are a few warning signs to be aware of.

Your friend or the person you are dating:

  • Is jealous or possessive of you—he or she gets angry when you talk or hang out with other friends, or people of the opposite sex.
  • Bosses you around, makes all the decisions, tells you what to do
  • Aside from the dangers of physical abuse, unhealthy relationships can take an emotional toll as well
  • Tells you what or what not to wear, who you can or can’t talk to, where you can or can’t go
  • Is violent with other people, gets in fights a lot, loses his/her temper a lot
  • Pressures you to do something sexual that you don’t want to do
  • Swears at you, or uses mean, degrading language when talking to you
  • Blames you for his or her problems, or tells you that it’s your fault that he or she hurt you
  • Insults you or tries to embarrass you in front of other people
  • Makes you feel scared of their reactions to things, feeling like you are “walking on eggshells” and worrying that anything could set them off
  • Calls or texts to check up on you all the time and always wants to know where you’re going and who you’re with

Everyone has the right to feel safe and loved, without emotional anguish or the threat of violence. If you are concerned that you may be in an unhealthy relationship, ending that relationship in a safe way may take some planning. Speak with a trusted adult who can help you decide the next course of action and visit the safe relationship section on the Center for Young Women’s Health website for more information.

Though media attention on this topic tends to focus on young women, dating violence is not gender specific. For information on dating violence from a young man perspective, please visit the Center for Young Men’s Health website where you can access information, tips and take quizzes to determine the safety of your relationship and evaluate your behavior as a partner.