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Talk To Your Teen About Dating Abuse

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I cannot help but read the tragic headlines about the brutal murder of  the bright, athletic and beautiful UVA lacrosse player.  Every time I read a new story about the accused “ex-boyfriend” it also brings to mind very important discussions that we had with our own sons about “how you treat girls” which began when they were just little boys.

I can close my eyes and remember my husband sitting down with each of them and discussing the “difference” between boys and girls. This was not about sexuality, but about how you treat girls, and one of the cardinal rules, “you NEVER hit a girl” followed by the admonition, “if a girl says NO, then you stop whatever it is you are doing!”.

At the time, I thought maybe he was being a little “dogmatic” about girls, as some of them could be really mean (they were known to throw sand on the playground, and might even pinch or pull hair), but as the boys got older, I began to understand why their father started these conversations at such a young age.  He was right, and he would re-iterate the “rules about girls” at different times during their childhood.

I think the last time he had this conversation was with our oldest son before his marriage.  ”The Dad” once again gave ”the son” good advice about the differences between men and women, including the natural arguments and struggles during any marriage. His last words of advice, “always remember girls are special, and so are wives” and “always treat your wife with respect”.

It seems that we are hearing more and more about the lack of mutual respect during dating and subsequent stories about tragic murders.  Maybe it is just the media coverage, but at the same time the issue of physical abuse during dating is becoming all too common.

The statistics about “date rape” and sexual assault on college campuses show that one in four women report some sort of sexual assault.

Abuse in any form is defined as  “a method used to exert power and control by one individual over another in an intimate relationship.”

An article in the July 2008 issue of The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine reported that almost half of undergraduate students say they have experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse while in a personal relationship. This data speaks for itself.

Lastly, there seems to be a direct correlation between media violence and an increase in aggressive attitudes, values and behaviors. Alcohol and binge drinking may also play a role in aggressive behaviors. This is a topic for later discussion.

Talk to your sons and daughters about expectations of healthy dating relationships.  Stress the importance of talking to you or someone if they feel as if they are in an abusive relationship and need help. Do not let them be silent.  The stakes are too high.

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

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