Use Your Words – Good Advice for Toddlers and Teens

Jul. 92024

When our children are toddlers, we are not surprised when they are unable to communicate effectively. They often get frustrated and turn to physical means such as hitting or biting. We need to gently encourage them to use their words. We remove them from the situation. Occasionally a time out for as many minutes as they are old will be appropriate. Spanking is not a good response. Children should not learn that if you are bigger or stronger you can get away with hurting someone else. They certainly won’t learn better behavior by being hit.  And we need to repeat good advice as our children get older. Our boys need to learn that violence is not the best way to handle anger. One reason I like having children enrolled in martial arts is that children actually learn not to initiate fights and are more comfortable avoiding violence.

What I really want to write about is teen dating violence. Perhaps some parents who read this article have actually been the subject – or the source – of partner violence. If you have been in such a relationship or know people who are, you are aware of how damaging such behavior can be. I believe we can only reduce the frequency of teen violence by confronting the issue before it becomes a problem. Parents need to reinforce proper behavior by discussing the subject with their children while they are still young. Boys need to find alternative ways to relieve their anger. Girls need to know that they should never allow physical violence or accept the blame for a boy’s outbursts, whether emotional or physical. Naturally, exposure to aggression in the family will only increase the risk of partner violence in adolescents. When parents emotionally or physically abuse one another or their children, there is a much greater chance that such behavior will be repeated in the next generation.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Center for Violence Prevention states, “Early exposure to violence can have long-term physical and psychological consequences. For example, adolescent victims are at higher risk for depression, substance abuse, suicide attempts, eating disorders, poor school performance, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and further victimization. Victims of teen dating violence also report higher rates of school absences, antisocial behavior and interpersonal conflict with peers. These toxic outcomes of teen dating violence emphasize the need to stop it before it starts and to intervene when others know about its occurrence.”

So how common is intimate partner violence? Surprisingly common. In the United States, up to 19% of teens experience sexual or physical dating violence, about half face stalking or harassment, and as many as 65% report being psychologically abused (“Teen Dating Violence,” Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice, 2022). The widespread use of social media has only made the problem worse.

So, we have a large number of teen girls who are being or have been abused. In one article the estimate was 33%! Complicating this problem is that often girls will not tell anyone, and their parents have no clue despite believing they would recognize the signs of abuse. How do we improve this situation? Being non-judgmental and communicating with your children about what is right and what is clearly unacceptable is a start. Boys and girls need to know they can rely on their parents for advice and support. Your children will make wrong choices. If you don’t think so, try to remember your decisions when you were a teen. Be aware that your children may not want you to make decisions for them or tell them what to do. But they do need to know you love them and want to help them be safe. If you need more options, speak to your pediatrician.

Meet the Author: Dr. Robert Golenbock
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