Although most middle school students are not officially dating at this point, I firmly believe as a parent and guidance counselor that prevention is key. If young people are educated about things they may run into, and have had time to think about responses, they are better prepared when situations arise.
I use the Safe Dates curriculum to teach about safe, healthy relationships and how to recognize red flags as well as what to do when we see them. The statistics on dating violence are alarming. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 adolescents report verbal, physical, emotional or sexual abuse from a dating partner each year. Many times abusive behavior begins with manipulative, controlling behavior and escalates to physical abuse. One thing is certain - abuse doesn't get better. Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to struggle in school, report alcohol/drug use, suicide attempts and physical fighting. Patterns often carry over in to future relationships.
It is important for young people to know they can talk to their parents if they are ever concerned about issues in their relationships or those with friends Young people need to be reminded that having a boyfriend or girlfriend is not the most important thing – particularly if they are settling for questionable treatment. They are valuable regardless of their “relationship status”.
Most all abuse has at it's core the desire to control. This is done by isolation, fear techniques or threats to hurt self or others. Let your young people know that excessive texting, stalking (online as well), isolating, trying to control what your partner wears, who they talk to, and extreme jealous are all red flags of unhealthy relationships. The sooner they recognize these signs, the sooner they can deal with them. Every misbehavior is not cause for alarm, but red flags should not be ignored!