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What teens need to know about abusive relationships

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Dating violence doesn't just happen to adults, it can affect your teen

As the Ray Rice scandal unfolded, our collective eyesight turned towards domestic violence.

We heard about warning signs, learned why women stay with violent partners and even learned how to help a friend leave a violent situation.

What we didn't hear, however, is that the patterns that blossom into adult intimate partner violence often begin in adolescence. Teenage abuse patterns are called dating violence, and they're every bit as serious as domestic violence. The difference is, of course, that dating violence in teens may be harder to spot, more difficult to take seriously and more challenging to legally prevent.

To find out how parents can help their teens avoid or leave dating violence, I caught up with Brian Pinero of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and his counterpart, Olympic gold medalist and Mary Kay dating violence spokeswoman Jordyn Wieber. "Both parents and teens need to understand that dating violence extends far beyond physical violence," said Wieber. "It's sexual, emotional and even digital." Pinero added that boyfriends — or girlfriends — may require forced sexting, Instagram check-ins and even isolation from friends at school. All of these forms of violence could easily evade the watchful gaze of even the most involved parents.

If these quiet forms of violence aren't alarming enough, the extent to which our teens experience and participate in abuse is shocking. According to the 2014 Mary Kay Truth About Abuse Survey, one in three teens and young adults have experienced dating violence. Nearly 60 percent of them waited more than six months to ask for help, and many stayed silent because they didn't know where to turn, and they even questioned whether or not their experience was a normal part of dating.

This is the point at which many parents feel powerless. Even if you sense something is wrong in your teen's relationship, your child may feel so protective of that boyfriend or girlfriend that they avoid talking to you about it. When I was a teen, for instance, I didn't talk to my parents about a verbally abusive boyfriend because I thought I was in love with him, and I didn't want my parents to tell me I couldn't see him anymore.

Thankfully, resources now exist to help teens identify and leave dating violence, even if they're reticent to talk to parents. "Parents should tell their kids that they don't have to be experts to know that if something doesn't feel right, then it's wrong," Pinero said. "Kids should know that the minute they sense something is off, they should contact us to get fresh eyes about their relationship before moving into something that could become violent."

"Teens and young adults have the resources," concluded Wieber. "If they're concerned, they can find help at LoveIsRespect.org, MaryKay.com/dontlookaway, or they can text 'Love Is' to 22522 to talk to a peer advocate about their situation." They don't have to spend their teenage years developing the habits that lead into a violent adulthood.

More about teen dating

Ways to make sure your teen doesn't hide a pregnancy
Linking teen sexting to 'All About that Bass' is absurd
Pediatricians recommend IUDs and implants for teen birth control

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