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Know warning signs of dating violence

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By Joan Martin

I don’t know that dating violence in Anderson County is much different than anywhere else in the state.
It’s usually somewhere under the radar for parents, school administrators and church leaders.
We just don’t talk about it. Kentucky is one of the few states that doesn’t allow the dating relationship to qualify for a protective order.
Dating violence is more common that most people believe. An Ohio State University Fact Sheet reported that 1-in-5 college students will become involved in a violent relationship as well as an estimated 1 in 8 high school students.
What factors increase the risk for being an abuser? Adolescents who attempt to control their dating partner usually lack personal skills in relationship development. He or she doesn’t differentiate that someone else can think or feel differently and still be in a successful relationship. In fact, many of these teens don’t have any role model for what makes a healthy dating relationship.
Who is at most risk for being a victim of dating violence? Teens who feel that their relationship is very serious and too important to break up are at risk for dating violence. This can occur at a young age, not just the older teens. These teens may have few social supports and may feel isolated. Teens’ lack of experience in dating relationships may also contribute to becoming a victim. Teens may not know what is behavior is acceptable in a dating relationship and what is not.
Teens in a violent relationship may not tell adults because they perceive the behavior as normal. How can you as a parent recognize the warning signs of a violent teen relationship? Ask yourself these questions.
Has your teen apologized for his or her partner’s behavior toward you and others? Has your teen lost interest in things that he or she once enjoyed such as hanging out with friends, extracurricular activities or hobbies?
Does he or she come home with unexplained bruises?
What can you do as a parent to prevent and/or intervene if there is a violent relationship?
You can be a good role model for a healthy relationship. You can show that couples can have disagreements, even serious disagreements, and still resolve them without violence. You don’t have to involve the teens or pre-teens in details of the conflict. You just need to show that you can resolve these issues and still have a healthy relationship. It isn’t wise to hide all disagreements from the children. Kids who grow up in homes who believe that there was never any disagreement between parents, can become adults who believe that any conflict is a danger to the relationship. This promotes unhealthy communication, intolerance for disagreements and differences, and a desire to leave at the first sign of conflict.
Parents can also discuss some of the warning signs of potential abusers. The best time to have this discussion is when children are about 9 or 10. You may think that is way too early. You may be surprised about what your pre-teen children observe among their friends and other adults. You can even discuss it when you see violent relationships in the media. This isn’t just a one-time discussion. Your children will believe that you actually know something about real life when you are able to discuss challenging issues with them. The best time to start is when there isn’t anything going on. Just make it a universal discussion. Find a way to start the discussion.
Finally, teach your son or daughter how to appreciate differences. Help them learn conflict resolution and negotiation skills. This is a very important life experience. You can be their best role model.     

Joan Martin is a consumer and family sciences agent with the Anderson Extension office.