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E-cigarettes060A big “thanks” to The Dallas Morning News (article entitled, “Dating rife with abuse, teens say,” October 24, 2014) and to the Associated Press for running this important news item. As a person who has talked with teens about dating, sex and relationships for more than forty years, I can tell you, things ARE changing. These numbers only report the tip of the iceberg.

I’d like to call your attention to a couple of things from this article…

First of all, the researchers found no differences in kids’ responses based on income, ethnicity, or geographic location. In other words, this is everyone’s problem. Kids are doing this all over the country. This leads a parent to ask, “Where is this coming from, this idea of sexual and romantic meanness?”

Secondly, kids think of teasing and name-calling as “normal” in relationships. Yet experts in abusive relationships explain that abuse begins with such “innocent” behaviors. Girls report to me that if they decline a boy’s advances, much less if they act insulted by an unwanted grope, the boy is likely to announce to all (often via Facebook or Instagram) that she is “frigid” or a “lesbo.” Likewise, if a guy turns down her advances, he can be instantly labeled as “gay.” The report is stunning in that it suggests that about 2/3 of teens have been both recipients and perpetrators of abuse.

A third troubling trend is that romantic retaliation, long a response to being jilted, has taken to the Internet. A keen example is what is called, “revenge porn,” publishing explicit pictures an ex- might have sent during a relationship, now “leaked” to a public forum.

What can a parent do?

My answer is always, “Talk about it.”

  • You might use a “third thing” like ABC’s News Report http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/revenge-porn-site-owner-convicted-extortion-28709909 .
  • You might want to talk about the terms used in the graph above, talking through the differences between psychological and physical abuse; the differences between sexual harassment and sexual abuse. It might be a good time to rehearse how to reply if someone were to say something “over the line.”
  • If your children are younger, your questions might be more gentle. Perhaps you’d ask something along the lines of, “When a friendship ends, how do people usually feel? What are some decent ways to treat one another? What are some mean ways to treat one another after a friendship ends.” That allows you to build a foundation which can carry over to romantic relationships.
  • Another conversation starter might be something about how scripture says we should “turn the other cheek.” What does that mean? Are there times when one should NOT turn the other cheek? If we are a friend of someone who is suffering harassment or abuse, how can we help?

This is a difficult topic to broach but when one realizes that about 2/3 of teens will encounter relationship abuse (whether in their relationships or with a friend’s), we must begin to lay a path for communication. Of course, a perfect antidote is to discuss and model what loving, kind, fun relationships are. Don’t forget to point out the ones you and your kids see in young adults they know: cousins, family friends, even young teachers or coaches at school. Good love is still around; we may just have to look for it.

As ever, I welcome your responses.