We need to talk about a serious subject: Teen dating violence. According to ABC News, teens are experiencing an alarmingly high level of dating abuse, which has only gotten worse due to the economic downturn. When times are tough, domestic violence goes up – and that goes for teen relationships too.

According to a new study, almost 50 percent of teens said they’d been victimized personally by controlling behaviors from a boyfriend or girlfriend, and nearly one in three teens in the study reported sexual or physical abuse or threats. The abuse isn’t just happening in person: 24 percent reported that they’d been victimized with technology by a boyfriend or girlfriend - for instance, spreading internet rumors. Things can turn deadly: One girl mentioned in the article was in a relationship with a possessive and controlling boyfriend, and she ended up being murdered. Another girl mentioned in the ABC News article had a boyfriend who always wanted to know where she was; he’d humiliate her and control who she saw. He pointed out imperfections, and made fun of her clothes. Once things turned physical – the boyfriend started grabbing her - the girl finally broke down and told her parents.

It’s stories like these that have parents of teen victims trying to add programs in schools that warn young people about teen dating abuse. Currently, only three states have prevention programs. Parents, if you think your teen is experiencing dating abuse, there are steps you can take.

  • Create opportunities to talk to your teen. For instance, pick your kid up from school – instead of having them take the bus. Your teen may be more willing to open up during moments like these. Talk to your teens about what healthy relationships look like: They should involve things like mutual respect, compromise, and being open to differences of opinion. Let your teen know that abuse is never acceptable.
  • Learn to spot the warning signs that your teen might be in trouble. They include: Your teen suddenly stops hanging out with their friends, they suddenly change the way they dress, they make changes in their daily rituals, or they have visible marks or bruises.

If you want to learn more – or you think your teen needs help – go to the websites loveisrespect.org and giverespect.org.