It Can Happen to Anyone

When most teens think of abusive relationships, they usually don't think it will happen to them. They don't think they can be involved with someone that can hurt them physically, mentally and/or emotionally.

But the fact is, 1 in 5 teens who have been in a serious relationship report being hit, slapped or pushed by a partner. Furthermore, 1 in 4 teens who have been in a serious relationship say their boyfriend or girlfriend has tried to prevent them from spending time with family or friends, but to only spend time with their partner. These actions are classic signs of an unhealthy and abusive relationship.

In the upcoming Lifetime movie, Reviving Ophelia, we watch a smart, "good girl" fall into an abusive relationship. Elizabeth seems to have it all together. Great family. Good grades. Pretty. Popular.

And a doting boyfriend who "loves" her.

Elizabeth's cousin, Kelli seems more likely to be the girl that would get caught up in a problem relationship. She's a rebellious girl who spends lots of time alone because her struggling, single mom is always working. She shows a lack of self esteem by acting out sexually with boys that obviously don't care about her.

She's a text book victim, right?

I think that many of us might believe that only "bad" girls that come from broken homes are susceptible to falling into an abusive relationship. So if we have a stable home and a moderately comfortable lifestyle, our children will make it through their teen years unscathed. If our daughters are smart and well-behaved, we shouldn't have anything to worry about.

That's proving to be a dangerous belief system.

1 in 3 teenagers report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt by their partner.

Nearly 80% of girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationships continue to date their abuser.

Teens report dating abuse via technology is a serious problem:

  • 71% of teens regard boyfriends/girlfriends spreading rumors about them on cellphones and social networking sites as a serious problem.
  • 68% of teens say boyfriends/girlfriends sharing private or embarrassing pictures/videos on cell phones and computers is a serious problem.
  • Cell phone calls and texting at unimaginable frequency mean constant control day and night

Based on those numbers, it's fair to say that abuse is a problem across all socioeconomic levels.

How would you react if you started to see that your daughter was spending less time with her friends and more time alone with her boyfriend? Most parents might think it was natural. Cute, even. What if her boyfriend was texting and calling her every hour? Some people might just see that as young love. They might remember what it was like when they wanted to spend every moment with their first real boyfriend.

Sometimes, it may be just that.

But sometimes it's more. Sometimes, it becomes dangerous.

How do we as parents know when it's more? How will we know if our daughters are in danger?

It's not likely that your teenage daughter will come to you and admit that she is being abused by her boyfriend. Her abuser has more than likely manipulated all situations in a way that leaves her feeling ashamed or at fault. As much as you want to think that you and your little girl have an open relationship where she can come to you about anything, the reality is that less than 25% of teens say they have discussed dating violence with their parents. Maybe you're in that small margin. But what if you're not?

What signs should you be looking for?

Has your daughter:

  • Shown signs of being afraid to upset their partner?
  • Spent excessive amounts of time in contact with their partner?
  • Lost contact with other friends?
  • Been constantly fighting with their partner?
  • Changed their behavior and/or appearance?
  • Had unexplained injuries?
  • Not been enjoying activities that he/she used to enjoy?
  • Become more aggravated and/or less independent?
  • Seemed persistent to be home at certain times to receive/make phone calls?
  • Seemed withdrawn from what is going on around him or her?

In Reviving Ophelia, even after Elizabeth lands in the hospital, we see her struggle to break free from the boy she loves. Her "bad girl" cousin, Kelli starts to figure things out and tries to help Elizabeth. Kelli turns out to be Elizabeth's greatest ally, coming to her aid, even at the risk of losing her friendship. She supports her through adult situations that teenagers are not equipped to deal with. Thankfully, Elizabeth's parents step in. But even then, breaking free is not as easy as breaking up.

Stereotypes are turned upside down in this movie, reminding us that everyone is at risk of violence, regardless of race, social class, religion. Anyone can become a victim of violence.

Even smart girls.

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Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle, Raising the Bar) and Kim Dickens (Treme, The Blind Side) star in the upcoming Lifetime Original Movie Reviving Ophelia. The movie is inspired by the best-selling book by Dr. Mary Pipher and tells the story of two mothers facing the difficulties of raising their teen daughters -- one struggling with dating abuse and the other acting out with rebellious behavior

Reviving Ophelia will premiere on Lifetime Monday, October 11, at 9PM ET/PT.

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Thank You!

Special thanks to my friend, Cathy Nguyen, Health Coordinator of the HOPE & Wellness Center at Cal State University San Marcos, for providing information and resources on this very serious issue.

~~~ Resources Love Is Respect - National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline 1-866-331-9474 Website: http://www.loveisrespect.org/

Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) 1-800-656-HOPE Website: http://www.rainn.org/

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All statistics from Liz Claiborne Inc. Teenage Research