Turns out, that can be pretty mild stuff compared to what teens do to each other in dating relationships.
Swept Off Their Feet…Or Knocked Off Their Feet?
Once upon a time, the worst fear kids had before going out on a date was whether they’d get an ill-timed zit, but in 2009, Chris Brown hit his then-girlfriend Rihanna, and brought renewed attention to dating violence. A few new studies on teen dating violence are doing the same thing today. The National Survey on Teen Relationships and Intimate Violence is a brand new report that focused on the various ways teenagers mistreat one another inside dating/romantic relationships.
The findings were disappointing and concerning.
Of the 600 young people between the ages of 12 and 18 who responded to the online study, a majority of girls and guys claimed to be victims and perpetrators of abusive dating behavior that ranges from name-calling, to stalking, to rape (and lots in between). By the numbers:
- 20% of both genders claimed to be victims of physical and/or sexual assault.
- A whopping 60% of both genders said they had been teased, taunted, stalked…or otherwise abused psychologically.
- During the ages of 12-14, girls are more likely to be the aggressors, but boys reverse that trend during the ages of 15 to 18.
Extrapolated, these findings reveal that approximately 25 million American teens are victims of dating abuse and nearly 23 million are perpetrators of the same.
In a slightly older study (2010) by the Centers for Disease Control, they only found that 9.4% of teens had been physically assaulted by those with whom they shared a dating relationship. Love Is Respect, is an online resource dedicated to reducing teen abuse in dating relationships. According to their findings, which were more similar to the National Survey than the CDC, they have a lot of work to do:
- Almost 1.5 million high school students report physical abuse from a dating partner each year.
- One-third of American youth claim to be a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.
- Roughly 70% of college students say they’ve been sexually coerced.
These patterns of behavior are hardly representative of loving relationships. So, what can be done to help teens enjoy dating instead of fear it?
Let’s acknowledge one fact about teenagers: they rarely solve their own problems. Left to their own devices, teens will (probably) perpetuate these alarming trends. If you want proof of that potentially inflammatory statement, then just check out the national response to Roberts’ cat calling video which included sending her death threats and rape threats.
And those were the adults of our nation.
In a culture that accelerates sexuality through popular music and simultaneously seems to tolerate sexual indiscretions amongst our young people, there are still steps that can be taken to ensure that kids not only survive the dating scene but manage it in a God-honoring way. Here are a few practical tips:
- Share stories. Preferably your own. As a parent or youth worker, you’ve probably got a great story to share from your own dating life – hopefully of your spouse! – and you might even have a not-so-good story to share, as well. Consider sharing those stories to contrast feelings, highlight appropriate attitudes/behavior, and forge decision-making skills. Obviously, you will want to show discretion in doing this, but the lessons you learned in the past can help shape their future.
- Teach godly behavior. The Bible has plenty to say about how we should treat others…especially those with whom we’re romantically involved. Instill in young people an appreciation of God’s desires for our relationships. In the very beginning, God gave Adam a helper, eventually named Eve, to be with him and enjoy. Later in His Word, God teaches that love should be the defining attribute of our relationships. Anything less than this is a deviation of God’s plan. If you’re looking for some great (and FREE!) resources to help you teach this to your kids, check out the MUSIC DISCUSSIONS page at The Source for Youth Ministry. We have several awesome tools that address “dating” and “relationships.”
- Model zero-tolerance parameters. After dates, or as relationships progress, have ongoing conversations with your teenagers about themselves, their significant others, and the nature of the relationship. Make sure that they are not being harassed or pressured in anyway…but also take the time to make sure they’re not the guilty one, either! If you uncover any troubling behavior, on either side, deal with it immediately and decisively. It’s the only way to break a cycle that could potentially last for years…and break lots of people in the process.
So much has changed about dating since some of us have done it. But we cannot allow the standards for healthy relationships to diminish to the point that our kids must tolerate dangerous situations. Healthy dating can be an important part of the process leading to a healthy marriage. Do all you can to ensure that your kids’ dating leads to happiness…not the ER.
David R. Smith
David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.