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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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.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.

Here’s what you already know about teenagers’ summer infatuations:

1. A new romance might be “the one” but it’s much more likely that feelings of affection will disappear once school starts – by mutual agreement or in a painful breakup… or in just a gradual drifting away. The bottom line is that this is probably not the time to start planning a wedding.

2. In fact, summer pairings might be much more casual, with date partners shuffling around within a larger social group every week or two.

3. Sometimes crushes are one-sided, with your teen pining after an unattainable heartthrob. This unrequited attraction might be unspoken so that you don’t even know about it, until you realize your child is surly and depressed.

You know all this. But knowing it doesn’t make living with your teen any easier. How can you help your teen survive summer romance? Here are some tips.

1. Keep things in perspective. Be interested and a good listener but don’t get over-involved. Remember this relationship is not likely to last past Halloween.

2. Be a good sounding-board. You know that a good way to find out what you think on an issue is to talk about it with someone else – even if the other person never says a word. Just being a sympathetic listener is a big help to your teen in sorting things out, so long as you remember to just listen and not give advice.

3. Avoid giving advice. Even if your teen asks for advice, be careful about giving any. Instead, ask your teen what he thinks. Or offer up several possible options. Strive to stay neutral about the whole situation.

4. Avoid giving opinions. You might really like one date over another one, but keep your opinions to yourself. Never fall into the trap of criticizing someone who has treated your teen shabbily – the road of true love never runs smooth and relationships that fall into the pits may soon be revived to the pinnacle of infatuation. You don’t want to be on the record saying unkind things about someone who turns out to be your teen’s favorite.

Of course, you will have filled your teen in on your value system with regards to dating and sex. Of course, you will be on the look-out for drinking, abusive behavior, and serious depression. Summer romance can be a catalyst for risky behavior and exaggerated emotions and you want to keep your teen as safe as you can.

But for most kids, summer romance is a learning experience  – learning about themselves, mostly, and about other people too. This is an important part of every teen’s education. Help your child get the most from the experience.


© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

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.

If your middle school child wants to start dating, you might think twice. A recent study of teens living in northeast Georgia found that early dating interferes with school success and leads to other bad things.

The Healthy Teens Longitudinal Study followed over 600 students for seven years, from the sixth through 12th grades. It looked at frequency of dating in relationship to high school dropout rates and teacher ratings of study skills. The findings were published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence.

Some students never or hardly ever dated from middle school through high school and these students had the best study skills. Other kids didn’t date much in middle school but dated frequently in high school. A larger-than-expected proportion of kids – 38% – dated frequently from sixth grade on.

Throughout the study, students who dated more were rated by teachers as having worse study skills. The earlier and more frequently a child dated, especially starting in middle school, the more likely he or she was to have used alcohol or drugs.

The lead researcher speculates that early dating is just one aspect of a pattern of high-risk behaviors. She also suggests that the emotional complications of dating, including feeling jealous, feeling anxious, and being rejected or jilted, distract children from studying and cause depressive symptoms. These may be more than a middle school student can handle.

If your middle school student shows no interest in dating, count yourself lucky and don’t make the mistake of thinking he or she is “behind.” It makes no sense to push dating in middle school or even in high school. There is plenty of time.

If your middle school child is already dating, how can you dial things back?

1. Don’t call it “dating.” Call it “hanging out” or something else that emphasizes the casual nature of this friendship. Avoid labeling your child’s significant other as a “girlfriend” or “boyfriend.” This is just a “friend.”

2. De-emphasize pairing-off. Don’t tell your child he and his friend make “a cute couple.” Don’t pose them for pictures together. Don’t engage in your child’s fantasies of love and marriage. Don’t let yourself become emotionally involved in your child’s romances.

3. Impose a curfew. Your middle school child and her friends should have an early curfew and you should always know where they’re going, how they’re getting there, and when they’ll be back. The more pest-y you can be the less glamorous dating will seem.

4. Talk about school, not about dates. Make certain that homework gets done, that your child is making good progress in his classes, and that he is serious about doing well.

5. Take seriously any hint your child has been introduced to drinking, smoking, or drug use. Early dating is part of a larger pattern. Any piece of the pattern can lead your child into trouble.

If your child is already dating and you think it’s too soon, say so. You might find that your child wants to quit but needs some support. Let your child know that it’s fine to go slow, to let himself be a kid as long as he likes, and to concentrate on his schoolwork.

Let your child know that dropping out of the dating scene – at any age – is fine with you.

©2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.