EAST PROVIDENCE – It’s better to safe and single, than dating and in danger, according to Christie Rizzo, a child psychologist with the Bradley/Hasbro’s Children’s Research Center.
As many as one in four teens, both male and female, have been in physically abusive relationships, and two-thirds have experience some form of sexual coercion, according to national research.
In Rhode Island, in 2011, in a survey of high school students as part of the statewide Youth Risk Behavior Study, about 8 percent of all students surveyed said that they had been hit by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year, and 7 percent reported that they had been raped.
Rizzo, an active researcher on adolescent dating violence, says that many parents are in the dark about their child's situation because teens are very good at hiding the signs of abuse.
“Depression is strongly associated with dating violence, so if your teen is in a relationship and suddenly begins doing poorly in school or is isolating themselves from their friends, these may indicate that he or she is in an unhealthy relationship,” Rizzo said.
Sometimes, teens may not even realize they’re experiencing early signs of abuse. A predominant indicator of an abusive relationship is extreme jealousy, according to Rizzo. The most important thing for parents is to have an ongoing dialogue with their teen, Rizzo said. “Kids are so inexperienced with dating, they don’t recognize that a partner’s extreme jealousy is a form of abuse, so if you encourage an open and ongoing dialogue, you're more likely to have your teen report to you,” she said.
For parents who might not know where to start, Rizzo suggests they begin by talking about what is healthy in a relationship versus what is not. Teens may be experiencing psychological violence and not put it in the same level of seriousness as physical abuse, but data show that a victim of psychological abuse is more likely to experience physical violence down the road.
It is also vital for parents to understand that in teen relationships technology (cell phones, text or instant messenger [IM], social networking sites) is often a tool of abuse. One in three teens say they are text messaged up to 30 times an hour by a partner inquiring where they are, what they’re doing, or who they are with. “Control and intimidation through technology can be just as serious as face-to-face violence, Rizzo said. “Parents need to have a dialogue with their teens about how to set healthy limits in-person and online.”