UT Expert Discusses Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Take the opportunity to have a conversation with your teen about safe relationship choices in February. 

Love is in the air this month, but for some teenagers, the desire for a relationship can spell disaster. According to Heather S. Wallace, assistant professor and University of Tennessee Extension human development specialist, teenagers may be especially at risk for making dating choices that lead to unsafe situations.

Wallace says, “Relationships are a status symbol in many teenage circles, and that may make it harder to pay attention to warning signs of an abusive or controlling partner.”

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and Wallace suggests parents take the opportunity to have a conversation with their teenagers about safe relationship choices. “Don’t wait for your child to ask questions. Instead, take advantage of natural opportunities to bring the subject up, like when you see something on social media. If that happens, ask open-ended questions to guide a conversation when teens are most likely to talk, such as when you are in the car or when they are at home in the evening.”

If a natural opportunity to discuss healthy relationships does not occur, Wallace suggests utilizing the storylines of popular movies or TV shows to help facilitate discussions. “Make family movie night a tradition, and then when partner violence occurs on screen, take the chance to address it with your teens. Hit pause, get their attention, and then stress that partner violence is never okay, whether you’re 15 or 50,” Wallace suggests.

Fostering an atmosphere of honesty, trust and respect is crucial as well. Says Wallace, “If your home is demonstrates these values, your teens will be more likely to expect similar treatment in a dating relationship.”

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that 40 percent of Tennessee women and 33 percent of Tennessee men may experience dating violence, stalking or other unhealthy relationship behaviors. If you suspect your teen may be among them, reach out for help. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) or, go online to TheHotline.org.  

For additional help and programs specifically about healthy relationships (for teens and adults), contact your county’s UT Extension family and consumer sciences agent at your local county Extension office. You can also visit the UT Extension Family and Consumer Sciences website at fcs.tennessee.edu.  

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Heather S. Wallace, assistant professor and human development specialist, UT Extension, 865-974-7193, heather.wallace@utk.edu