Teen Dating Violence: Effects of Growing Up In Abuse
Much of the information you'll read about teen dating violence awareness this month focuses on girls and young women. If the boys and young men are mentioned, it will probably be on a page designed to help them change. As the mother of two teenaged young men (Marc and Eddie) and a survivor of domestic abuse, I feel compelled to share my perspective.
Is Teen Dating Violence A Result Of A Lifetime of Abusive Examples?
As you can imagine, my boys witnessed the cycle of violence first hand growing up. They were 15 and 13 when I left their father. It is true that I spent 18 years in an abusive marriage, but my children spent their entire lives in an abusive family. Once I left the abuse, I began to remember life before it. My children do not have that advantage. Any movement away from abuse that they take will be new to them; life changes like that can be terrifying.
When I left, our boys were just beginning to form their own identities based on the examples set for them by their father and me. Our children were confused not as to why Mama left, but because now they wondered who am I expected to be? To please dad, act like dad. But "new mom" doesn't like dad. If I act like him, will she leave me too?
Teen Dating Violence Can Start By Testing Dad's Approach
My oldest son, Marc, put me to the test right away. His choice to live in the RV with his father spurred the judge to place both boys in the trailer in the spirit of "keeping the children together." When Marc agreed to visit me, he acted hostile and rude much of the time. He sent me scathing emails that rivaled his father's abusive words. Marc told me I was sick in the head and until I realized that fact, he had nothing to offer me except passing conversation to keep up the pretense of politeness.
My heart was broken. I wondered if I'd lost Marc forever. The guilt over waiting so long to leave hung heavy in my chest. I feared that Marc's father would now influence our child completely. I feared that Marc would become an abuser. I feared that I would one day have to exile my child from my life. But I held strong.
I responded to Marc's abuse as I'd responded to his father's, but experienced vastly different results. The difference was that my son loves me, not the idea of who he thinks I should be. Over the course of "the year that I thought would never end", Marc came around, re-opened his heart to me, and we've worked on our relationship.
Marc still keeps things close to his chest as I believe any 18 year old would do, but eventually, he confides in me as he's always done. All I have to do is wait; after that long year without my oldest son, I've learned the value of patience.
Experiencing Dating Violence While Learning to Be Non-Violent
I used patience to help me through the months where Marc's girlfriend stayed with us. She'd run away from home, and thinking her parents would want her back in short order, opened my home to her. The few days I'd imagined turned into 10 months.
The two of them abused cold medicines and pot, lying about it every step of the way. I combated the problem the best I could, and, eventually, Marc agreed to attend a rehab in Florida (Abuse Victims Addiction Problems). Soon after he completed the program, I sent his girlfriend away.
During the ten months we three lived together, I witnessed several distressing events that helped me to understand abusive relationships from a new and confusing perspective. I saw both Marc and his girlfriend physically abuse one another. Marc pushed her down in front of me and several others during a fit of temper. Before that, I witnessed her punch Marc (hard!) on several occasions; I told her it wasn't okay to hit him, even if she said she was "just playing."
Their arguments were infrequent but loud (until they realized I was in the house and could hear them), then fell into a silence in which Marc brooded and his girlfriend cut herself. I found out two months after the fact that his girlfriend took pills and got drunk in a suicide attempt.
Marc felt stuck and angry, his girlfriend felt alone and sad. The combination of their substance abuse and parental role models played a huge factor in their relationship that quickly turned abusive. Each child played their part, isolating one another and refusing to see that their match-up hurt them.
Open Discussions Lead to Change In Abusive Teenage Relationships
We openly discussed the abuse within the mismatched family we had become, but Marc came to me alone one day and asked if he was abusive. I told him, "Yes, Marc, you're behaving abusively but you are asking me that question. If you didn't want to change, you wouldn't be asking anyone, not even yourself."
I also told him that he was also a victim of abuse just like his girlfriend. I told him there was a pattern that he could break, but it would be tough because he was acting out what he'd seen his parents do all his life.
Teen dating violence, as with all types of domestic abuse, goes both ways. This month, I want to explore how we may be able to break the cycle of teenage dating violence alongside our teens, both male and female. It's not only the guys who could stand to change.
Jo, K. (2012, February 5). Teen Dating Violence: Effects of Growing Up In Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, September 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2012/02/teen-dating-violence-abuse
Author: Kellie Jo Holly
Teen dating abuse is quite common that is why February is a teen dating violence awareness month. I do hope many will become more aware. I would also encourage educators to help their teens become disciplined enough to be responsible with their actions.