Teen dating abuse doesn’t always look like a bruise on the cheek or a bloody lip. According to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus, 1 in 3 dating youth in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse within a dating relationship. As the parent of a dating teen, would you know what to look for?

“As parents, when we think about dating violence or abuse, we think about bruises or assaults. In reality it starts as little things—a grab, segregation from friends, rude text, a put-down—then little things turn to big things and by then it may be too late,” said Tonja Smith, Child and Family Advocate for Canopy Children’s Solutions. “Our kids learn from us in how we behave in friendships and marriages or romantic relationships. They watch how we treat other and how we allow ourselves to be treated. This modeling becomes their normal and even what they seek out in a partner.”

Because dating abuse, also known as domestic violence or relational abuse, doesn’t have a set appearance, it can be easy to overlook signs that abuse is happening to a child, loved one, or even to oneself. The Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides these red flags that abuse may be occurring or imminent in a relationship:

  • Partner checks cell phones, emails and/or social media without permission
  • Extreme jealousy or insecurity
  • Belittling
  • Explosive temper
  • Isolation from family or friends
  • Mood swings witnessed in your child
  • Inflicting physical pain/signs of assault
  • Showing possessiveness and control over a partner
  • Pressure for physical intimacy

In addition, Smith recommends that parents watch for changes in behavior in their child, loss of interests, making excuses for worrisome behavior and poor boundaries where a dating partner feels the need to constantly be in contact or physically present.

“Teens crave attention—from friends, potential dating partners, partners—so they can really have on blinders to what is happening in an abusive situation,” said Smith. “At home I use is what my daughter and I call ‘talk time,’ where we discuss our day or anything on our minds good or bad. If we watch a movie together, I may talk to her about things that are depicted to help me gain her perspective. Having this open flow of communication encourages her to have a voice.”

As part of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month this February, it is important that parents talk to their teens about dating and what makes a healthy relationship. This may be a way to gain introspection in your own relationships as well as help teens lay out healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors for themselves and for their partners. For more information on Teen Dating Violence Prevention, visit the Mississippi State Department of Health website www.msdh.ms.gov. You can also contact the National Dating Abuse Helpline for resources by texting “loveis” to 77054.