Dating Abuse: Helping Those in Harm

The Situation

We imagine a person for our child who would value and encourage their strengths, forgive and be gracious towards their weaknesses, share or support their dreams, protect and stand by them, bring joy to their life. Yet many, many teens find themselves in relationships where they are not even safe. According to recent statistics, one in three teenagers have dated someone who tries to maintain power and control over them through some kind of abuse (US Department of Justice 2002). Dating violence can take many forms including psychological, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. It can happen in casual dating relationships and serious, long-term situations.

It is hard to say exactly how often dating violence occurs because different studies ask about it in different ways and get very different results. The Center for Disease Control 2000 survey found that 1 in 11 high-school students said they had been hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year. Even more teens report emotional and psychological abuse in their dating relationships, as high as 96%. According to the

National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, while both boys and girls report acting violently because they were angry, teenage boys are much more likely to use force in order to control their girlfriends. Girls more often act violently in self-defense. Girls are also much more likely than boys to have serious injuries and to report being terrified.

The Impact

The impact of any type of abuse is extensive. Teens involved with an abusive partner report increased levels of substance use, alcoholism, and antisocial behavior. They experience mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and suicidal behavior. They report lasting negative health problems such as chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, and irritable bowel syndrome as well as reproductive health problems including unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. (Intimate Partner Violence Prevention, Facts 2005)

Helping Teens

The problem is here, it is serious, and it is preventable. Education, empowerment, and options can enable teens to recognize and walk away from abusive relationships. Youth workers are in touch-point positions as present, trusted adults, to find out about and help respond to dating violence. You can help teenagers choose better dating relationships by discussing healthy, Godly relationships. What does God say about how we are to live with each other? How we should we treat each other in all of our relationships, but especially with those closest to us?

Bible study or youth meetings can also be used to present practical information on dating safety. Some ideas to review include:

  • Consider double-dating the first few times they go out with a new person.
  • Use the buddy system and if they leave a party or event with someone they do not know well, let the buddy know.
  • Know exact plans of where they will be going and when they will return.
    Let their date know that they are expected to talk to their parents when they get in.
  • Remind them that their ability to react is severely altered when under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Trust their feelings and get out if someone hurts them or makes them feel scared or bad in any way.
  • They have every right to say no. No boyfriend or girlfriend has the right to tell them what they can or should do, what they can or should wear, or what kind of friends they should have.
  • Talk with a parent or trusted adult if any of these things are happening.

Another important topic to review is the early warning signs of an abusive relationship. Signs that a date may eventually become abusive include:

  • Extreme jealousy
  • Controlling behavior
  • Quick involvement
  • Mood swings
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Explosive anger
  • Isolates partner from friends and family
  • Uses force during an argument
  • Shows hypersensitivity
  • Blames others for his/her problems or feelings
  • Verbally abusive
  • Has abused former partners or uses threats of violence (Teen Dating Violence, 2005)

Helping Families

Parents so often seem to be “the last to know.”  Providing them with facts about the incidence and warning signs of dating abuse can prepare them to be alert in their own homes. Common clues that indicate that a teenager may be experiencing dating violence include:

  • Physical signs of injury
  • Truancy and/or dropping out of school
  • Falling grades
  • Changes in mood or personality, appearance or clothing style
  • Use of drug/alcohol where there was no prior use
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Isolation from friends and family (Teen Dating Violence, 2005)

You may also find yourself in a position of needing to inform a parent about a difficult concern you have for their son or daughter. This kind of information can be met with overwhelming sadness, fear, denial, or even anger. Begin with prayer! Try to provide straightforward facts about what is taking place. Give them time to adjust to the news and tell them you will follow-up in a day or two. Be ready to provide reading materials, counseling referrals, or community-based resources if needed. Don’t hesitate to discuss the situation confidentially with another staff member, pastor or Christian counselor.

His Grace

Living in a sinful world creates so many risks for us all!  And our loving Savior has the best answers and solutions. His forgiveness and grace are a source of hope for someone who may be or could become an abuser. His love and acceptance radically counters low self-esteem and loneliness that can put someone at risk for being caught in an abusive relationship. The community and fellowship offered in a Christian youth program gives connection to supportive, caring people; people who can teach and encourage choices and behaviors that the Ultimate Authority on life and relationships wants for us. Teens can choose better relationships when they believe they are valuable people, created in God’s image, loved by Him, and deserve to be treated with the respect God commands us all to give each other.

Resources for information on teenage date abuse*:

Violence and Teenagers, What Should Parents Know
Teen Facts Teen Dating Violence
The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233(SAFE)

*Part of the mission of DCS is networking resources for our partners in ministry.  thESource articles, Bible studies, and resources produced by Concordia Publishing House have passed doctrinal review.  Additional resources are recommended from time to time with the confidence that LCMS church workers are trained to discern what is useful and proper for Lutheran churches and schools.

Lori Snyder serves as a Christian counselor in St. Charles, Mo., where she lives with her family.
Published March 2006

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