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Teach teens that love is respect

By Alicia Tarant

Most people would agree that teen dating violence is a problem. According to, studies have shown that up to 76 percent of teens have experienced emotional and psychological abuse within their dating relationships. However, many well-meaning parents either fail to recognize the signs or don’t know what to do when their child enters an unhealthy relationship. 

Like most adults, teens are good at showing their family and friends what they want them to see. They crave more independence and will do whatever is necessary to show they deserve it. The last thing most teens want to do is intentionally disappoint their parents. 

Age aside, it’s hard for anyone to admit to being in an unhealthy relationship. It can be easy to convince yourself you are in love and things will change. Teens may simply think that this is what love looks like or believe that this is as good as it gets. 

Everyone in an unhealthy relationship has their “why.” Even the teens who know the signs of dating abuse may not yet have the life experience or skills to effectively address the issue. 

So, what can parents do? 

First and foremost, just be there for your child. Refrain from judgment and giving unsolicited advice; just be there to listen. Even then, your child still may not feel comfortable or safe enough to confide in you at that moment. However, knowing you are there when he or she is ready to talk can make a huge difference. 

Also, show your child what a healthy relationship looks like. It’s OK to talk about past mistakes you’ve made or situations you or your friends have experienced. When watching TV or movies, ask your child questions and discuss what you see. Again, listening to your child’s perspective is far more important than making your opinion known. Showing empathy for those experiencing tough situations shows your teen that he or she can come to you with any type of problem. 

In addition, talk to your child about safety planning and worst-case-scenario situations that may arise. Ideally, these types of conversations have been ongoing, but it is never too late to start. 

Finally, learn what resources are available, and share that information. Knowledge is power, and the more you and your child have, the better. If you are friends with your child on social media, share posts and support organizations that promote healthy relationships. This reinforces your values and can help your teen and others reach out for assistance when needed. 

National initiatives such as, a National Domestic Violence Hotline project focused on teen relationships, can provide a wealth of information. Locally, the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence provides free counseling services for teens who have experienced interpersonal violence. Free educational programs also are available for parents and children of all ages that promote and teach about healthy relationships.

Alicia Tarrant is the Youth outreach educator for the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence. For more information or to schedule a presentation, please call (228) 435-3809 or email

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