Recently, I got a call from a parent that said a boy her daughter had been dating bullied her daughter into sending a nude photo of herself. The boy was relentlessly pressuring her to send the photo for weeks. She finally caved and then he threatened to send them to all his friends if she didn’t send more. Once she didn’t, he made good on his threat and sent them around to kids in school. This is so common that you’ve probably heard a story just like this.
Sending nude photos of minors is a serious crime can be considered child pornography which is illegal to distribute with consent or without, or to show someone what has been sent to you and can result in jail time. Does your teen know this? Does your teen know that if someone sends them a nude photo and they send it to someone else, no matter what the reason, even if it is to get advice for help, they too are breaking the law and may have to face serious consequences?
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month because of Valentine’s Day and the focus on love and affection. That makes February the perfect time to circle back to the conversation of consent and healthy relationships.
Relationships that are not healthy are based on power and control, not equality and respect. In the early stages of an abusive relationship, your teens may not think the unhealthy behaviors are a big deal. However, possessiveness, insults, jealous accusations, yelling, humiliation, pulling hair, pushing or other negative, abusive behaviors, are—at their root—exertions of power and control.
Remember that abuse is always a choice and your teen deserves to be respected. There is no excuse for abuse of any kind. Dating abuse is a pattern of destructive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner. While we define dating violence as a pattern, that doesn’t mean the first instance of abuse is not dating violence. It just recognizes that dating violence usually involves a series of abusive behaviors over a course of time.
Dating violence can happen to anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation or background. Drugs and alcohol can affect a person’s judgment and behavior, but they do not excuse abuse or violence. Alternatively, if a person uses drugs/alcohol it does not mean they deserve abuse or assault.
Dating Violence doesn’t necessarily mean that physical violence has to occur. Dating violence can be:
Physical: hitting, slapping, choking, kicking, grabbing, pulling hair, pushing, shoving.
Emotional/Verbal: putting you down; embarrassing you in public (online or off); threatening you in any way; telling you what to do or what to wear; threatening suicide; accusing you of cheating.
Sexual: pressuring or forcing you to do anything sexual you’re not comfortable with and/or do not consent to, including sexting; restricting access to birth control; unwanted kissing or touching,
Financial: demanding access to your money; preventing you from working; insisting that if they pay for you, you owe them something in return.
Digital: sending threats via text, social media or email; stalking or embarrassing you on social media; hacking your social media or email accounts without permission; forcing you to share passwords; constantly texting or calling to check up on you; frequently looking through your phone or monitoring your texts/call log.
If you are certain that your teen is involved in an abusive relationship, here’s what you can do:
Tell your teen that you’re concerned for their safety. Point out that what’s happening isn’t “normal.” Everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship.
Be supportive and understanding. Stress that you’re on their side. Provide information and non-judgmental support. Let your teen know that it’s not their fault and no one “deserves” to be abused. Make it clear that you don’t blame them, and you respect their choices.
Believe them and take them seriously. Your teen may be reluctant to share their experiences in fear of no one believing what they say. As you validate their feelings and show your support, they can become more comfortable and trust you with more information. Be careful not to minimize their situation due to age, inexperience or the length of their relationship.
Help develop a safety plan. One of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship is when the victim decides to leave. Be especially supportive during this time and try to connect your teen to support groups or professionals that can help keep them safe.
Remember that ultimately your teen must be the one who decides to leave the relationship. There are many complex reasons why victims stay in unhealthy relationships. Your support can make a critical difference in helping your teen find their own way to end their unhealthy relationship.
This information is adapted from training I provide developed by Love Is Respect.