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A recent study found that one in three teens report being victims of dating violence and that girls are as likely as boys to be perpetrators of violence. These startling findings are a wake-up call for parents.

The study collected an online survey from over 1,000 dating teens. The purpose of the relevant portion of the survey was to determine the incidence of dating violence, including physical violence (hitting, slapping), sexual violence (including forced advances), and psychological or emotional violence (threats, extortion). These forms of violence mirror the Adverse Childhood Experiences matrix that has established long-term negative physical and mental health effects on adult lives.

Researchers found that girls are almost equally likely to report being a perpetrator of dating violence (35%) as they are to report being a victim (41%). Thirty-seven percent of boys report being a victim of dating violence and 29% report being a perpetrator. Twenty-nine percent of girls and 24% of boys report being both a perpetrator and a victim of dating violence.

Girls were much more likely to report being victims of sexual violence and were also much more likely than boys to commit physical violence. Accordingly, boys were more likely to report being a perpetrator of sexual violence. Boys and girls were about equal in their reports about inflicting and receiving psychological violence.

The older teens got, the more likely they were to report violence. But findings were similar across race and income levels. The findings of this study match findings in a smaller study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So what does this mean for us parents?

Do what you can to dial down the violence in teen relationships and reduce the level of coercion and meanness. A third of children is way too many to have hurtful experiences so young.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

Two things we know: arguing in front of the kids is a bad thing and arguing with your partner (even in front of the kids) is inevitable.

So how can you and your children’s other parent argue without running the risk of inflicting emotional damage?

1. First of all, keep the child out of it. Don’t ask your child who’s right or wrong, don’t use your child as Exhibit A in some way, and be careful to not say anything your child will assume includes him too.

Your child is naturally loyal to both parents and, of course, is equally related to both of you. Even young kids make a connection between this trait or that of Mom or Dad and their own behavior. Dissing your partner is the same as criticizing your child. Asking a child to side with you against his other parent is asking him to disparage part of himself. Don’t do it!

2. Second, remember that your partner is not your enemy. This is the person you love, the parent of your children. Even though you may be frustrated and annoyed, don’t let your own pride and rigidity get in the way of love.

Your child is watching. She’s learning what love looks like and she’s considering if your love for her might be as fragile as your love for her other parent. Demonstrate that love overcomes differences and endures even everyday ups and downs. Stop before you say things that are damaging, to your partner and to the child who overhears.

3. Be the one who stops. There is no shame in calling a halt to an argument. Doing so doesn’t mean you “blinked” or are weak. Demonstrate – to your partner but especially to your child – how to stop a fight by refusing to engage in one.

Many people don’t know how to get back to a quiet state. They don’t know how to get themselves back off the edge. If this is you, then now is the time to learn. Practice deep breathing, finding inner stillness, whatever it takes. Knowing how to defuse a situation is important for you and it’s important for your child. As University of Washington’s Laura Kastner says, “Don’t just do something, stand there.”

4. If an argument erupts, fix things after. Reassure your child, who is upset even though he may not dare show it. Don’t “explain” how your child’s other parent was unreasonable and you were right – don’t put your child in the middle. Simply reassure him that the fight is over now, you still love your partner, and things are okay. And be sincere about that. Let your child see that you and your partner can be nice to each other and that the storm the child witnessed really is over.

5. Remember that if things are generally loving and kind in your household, the occasional (very occasional) disagreement does little harm and may even help children understand that all relationships require effort to make them work. There’s no need to feel horrible about a noisy argument.

At the same time, though, if disagreements between you and your partner are frequent, are violent or even just highly emotional, or if bad feelings linger like a dark cloud, then get professional help, either together as a couple or on your own if your partner won’t participate. Children who live in a state of constant upheaval may suffer long-term emotional and even physical consequences.

Arguments happen. There’s no shame in that. But how you argue does matter. Remember always that your children are watching.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

It wasn’t very long ago – I’m not that old and this was within my lifetime – that doctors thought children younger than three aren’t affected by disruptive events and don’t remember them anyway. Right up until the 1960s, it was common practice for parents of hospitalized babies and toddlers to be asked to stay away and not visit their children at all. Doctors and hospital staff thought that parents just got in the way and that the children wouldn’t suffer any long-term effects of what was really abandonment.

We’ve wised up. Parents are now allowed to room-in with hospitalized children or certainly are allowed to visit pretty much as often as they can. But in many ways we’re still in the Dark Ages when it comes to infants and toddlers. We still imagine that events we’d recognize as traumatic for older children don’t much matter to babies.

This just isn’t so. We now know that infants and toddlers are indeed affected by frightening events, like a fire or a car crash, the prolonged absence of a parent because of work or illness, incidents of domestic violence, parents’ separation or divorce, and the death of someone near and dear to them. Studies using brain imaging and tracking of stress hormones and heart rate demonstrate that the youngest children are just as deeply affected by stressful events as older children are, with the added stress that they cannot understand what’s going on, can’t talk it over with anyone, and have no idea how the future will be.

Studies as part of the Adverse Childhood Experiences project have demonstrated that childhood stress has long-term effects on a person’s health and life success. Other studies have suggested that early stress interferes with secure attachment and even with brain development. We expect two- and three-year-olds to act out in response to stress. It shouldn’t be so surprising that even babies’ behavior may be affected by traumatic events.

Of course, bad things do happen to good people and no one can keep stressful events away. There’s no way we can protect our children (or ourselves) from trauma. But there are some things we can do to reduce the stress load on little children.

  1. Starting now, be there for your baby. Establishing a close, supportive relationship with both parents and with other local adults, like a grandparent, provides your child with insurance against trauma later. The time to become one of the people your child counts on in times of trouble is right now.
  2. Starting now, be trustworthy to your baby. Tell your child when something is going to happen that he might find scary, like going to the doctor or being left with a babysitter. Even though your child is too young to understand what you’re saying, he will understand your intent. When you leave your child, say good-bye. Don’t sneak out.
  3. Permit your baby to have a security object, if she likes. Many toddlers become attached to a blanket or stuffed toy and need to have it with them everywhere. Fine. Don’t get in the way of this or be embarrassed by the ragged, dirty appearance of this best friend. Let your child find comfort where she can.
  4. In the middle of a scary event, stay as calm as you can and let your baby know you’re there to keep him safe. Your quiet, soothing presence can reduce your child’s stress and help him to know he’s not alone.
  5. After a trauma, expect your child to react. Watch for sleeplessness, fussiness, rage, and disruptions in eating. Notice if your baby seems to fall into depression. These reactions are possible and can become serious issues. Your baby’s mental health is important, so get help if you think help is needed.

Most of all, remember that your child is a real person, no matter how young she is. Even tiny children are aware of what’s going on and are affected by it. While I hope nothing traumatic ever happens to your family, I also hope you’re there for your even your youngest children if something ever does.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.