Red flags for dating teens
February is Teen Dating Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. While the month is targeted towards teens, the Centre Against Abuse has designed talking points for parents, guardians, teachers, counsellors, youth sports leaders and youth group leaders. This month is a great time to begin discussions on teen dating abuse by openly talking about the red flags.
Red-flag warnings can be used to identify dangers in relationships. These unhealthy behaviours warn us that a person is dangerous and alerts us not to proceed with the relationship. Often red flags are ignored because teens are not taught what they are, and how to handle them.
Red flags present in a variety of forms and if teens understand that they are danger warnings, and are taught how to best handle them, we can reduce their involvement in abusive relationships. Below is a list of red flag behaviours that occur in many teen relationships. We encourage you to use this list as a conversation starter. Red flags present as:
• Partner always asks where you are and who you are with, and tells you who you can speak with
• Partner asks to see your phone and/or deletes things from your phone
• Partner asks for your passwords to your phone and/or social media
• Partner creates arguments if you don’t respond to their messages or calls immediately
• Partner calls you names
• Partner always accuses you of having a relationship with another person
• You’re always apologising to calm down your partner
• Partner breaks or threatens to break your items
• Partner threatens to harm you or someone you care about
• You hear how your partner abused someone else
• Partner speaks badly about your friends
• Partner tells you not to attend events
• Partner is considerably older than you
• Your relationship is only via social media
• You’re afraid to speak your mind or go against your partner because it will cause an argument
• Partner monopolises your free time and makes you feel guilty for wanting to make plans with your friends
• Partner threatens to harm themselves if you break up with them
• Partner threatens to leave you if you don’t do what they say
• Partner asks or demands for you to send sexually explicit pictures of yourself or takes pictures of you without your consent
• Partner buys you things and uses them to justify treating you in any manner they want
• Partner hits you
The Centre Against Abuse encourages all persons to start the conversation by inquiring with teens if they have ever experienced any of the above behaviours or heard or seen them occur with a friend. A good next step in the conversation can be to ask them how they feel about these behaviours to gauge their response and further engage them on the topic. Another conversation point is for you to share your own experiences as a teen, how you handled them, what worked for you, and what didn’t.
Quite often teens mistake these warning signs for love. We must assist them with understanding that these red flags are key warnings of controlling, jealous, manipulative, isolating and harmful behaviours. Encourage teens to ask questions when they feel apprehensive, as this will develop their natural instincts towards red-flag behaviours.
Also, include in the discussion the importance of choosing respect in relationships. Self-respect produces self-love, and the sooner this is realised, the sooner we can create a generation that thrives on choosing respect. Respect can be established with others via standards.
Standards are rules of behaviours that a person sets for themselves, such as: “I will not threaten others with harm, and I will not remain in a relationship where I am being threatened or harmed.”
These rules identify what a person will or will not tolerate, which creates a blueprint for how people love themselves. If standards are not created and valued by a teen as a representation of who they are, then another person can easily mould them into someone who accepts less than their worth.
Encourage teens early to love themselves and set standards. Standards can be talked about and established before teen years and continue through to adulthood. If you have not discussed standards with your teen, you can use the above red-flag list to start the conversation for establishing standards.
For many adults having these conversations can feel awkward. The Centre Against Abuse advises to have these talks at a relaxed time, such as while out driving, walking or during mealtime. The important thing is for conversations to begin and to continue.
It is imperative that community services are also shared, as they offer experts in these areas to assist with support for future healthy relationships. Services for teens include:
• Department of Child and Family Services, a government agency that investigates matters for those under the age of 18, and provides next steps that include counselling services (296-7575)
• Family Centre, a free confidential counselling services for ages 4 through 18 (232-1116, www.tfc.bm)
• Teen Services, promotes healthy development in young women through education, counselling and support (292-4598)
• The Coalition for the Protection of Children, works to prevent the circumstances that negatively affect a child’s development through counselling and education (295-1150, www.coalition.bm)
The Centre Against Abuse provides services to anyone over the age of 18 who is a survivor of domestic abuse. Therefore, within the realm of this discussion, we can assist adults who may need counselling support with a teen that is in an abusive situation. As a community, we are responsible for creating healthy teens, healthy mindsets and reflecting healthy relationships.
If you are a community organiser, consider having a presentation for teens using the Centre Against Abuse or any of the above helping agencies during the month of February.
Let today be a fresh beginning for helping a teen choose healthy relationships.
• Laurie Shiell Smith is the executive director of the Centre Against Abuse. Contact 292-4366 or email@example.com for assistance. The 24-hour hotline is 297-8278