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One in five adolescent girls and one in eight adolescent boys were found to be victims of dating violence severe enough to prompt emergency medical care in a new study, the largest of its kind, conducted by the University of Michigan Medical School.

Over 4,000 teens between 14 and 20 were asked about injuries they suffered that prompted an emergency room visit. The resulting level of dating violence is startling, especially when one considers that many incidents go unreported or are not severe enough to prompt immediate medical attention.

Teens of both sexes reported being punched, shoved, having hair pulled or being hit by thrown objects. Altogether, one in six teens experienced dating violence.

As you might expect, several factors were associated with dating violence, including use of drugs or alcohol. These factors affected victims and perpetrators of both sexes.

As the parent of a teen, what can you do to ensure your child won’t get into trouble on a date?

  1. Be aware of the temptations of alcohol or drugs. As you might expect, being under the influence of substances was a major factor in emergency room visits for dating violence. Almost every teen these days is confronted with pressure to drink and drugs are commonplace in every neighborhood. While you cannot keep your child away from these temptations, you can talk with your child about ways to deflect pressure to indulge.
  2. Encourage dating in groups, rather than in pairs. While certainly a group can apply pressure to do negative things, groups also apply pressure to stay positive. At the very least, dating in a group provides a teen with witnesses to what happened if anything does.
  3. Encourage dating in public spaces. Going to the mall, to the movies, or to another public venue where there are lots of people around and a police presence or security staff helps limit opportunities for dating violence. Being around other people has a limiting effect on expressions of anger.
  4. Be your child’s back-up. Make certain your child knows you will always come get him, from any place at any time, no questions asked.
  5. If your child has anger issues, get help. Violent behavior isn’t any more normal in teens than it is in adults. Don’t write off your child’s violent nature by saying it’s “just hormonal” or “just a phase.” Your kid – whether a boy or girl – is capable of inflicting real harm and of getting into real trouble. If you are ever afraid of your child or for your child, get help.

Realize that a date can go bad for any teen, and for more teens than you might have imagined. Negotiating relationships in adolescence is hard enough without feeling physically endangered.  So if your child hints that there is a problem, take it seriously.


© 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.