Why do young women date abusive boys*?
One reason some young women learn to tolerate abuse stems from their witnessing it in their parents’ relationships. Girls who witness poor treatment of women are for more likely to develop the sense that that sort of treatment is normal and acceptable.
Mothers, if you want to teach your daughters not to tolerate abuse, start with your own relationships. Are you tolerating abuse from your husband or boyfriend? If you are, don’t expect your daughter to behave differently.
What do I mean by tolerate? Tolerate means to loathe something yet no nothing to stop it. Hating the abuse you receive does nothing to stop it. Complaining about it to your friends, co-workers, children do nothing to stop it (although may also be invaluable for your emotional support). You must act to stop it: leave, speak out, confront, approach law enforcement…any and all of those things that you possess as leverage to change your situation.
Some adolescents tolerate abuse because they put too much stock in having a boyfriend. Most of you have heard the term “boy crazy”. It’s cute when a girl is 5 and talks about marrying her Daddy or her Kindergarten classmate; it’s not so funny when she is 13 and is willing to do anything to achieve “boyfriend/girlfriend” status. These adolescents tend to then tolerate anything—even abuse—in order to maintain that status. It is crucial that parents and others downplay the importance of dating at an early age. It shouldn’t be “cool” to date until later in adolescence.
A third reason teenage girls often tolerate abuse from boys is that they simply do not know how to assert rights and boundaries. They know they are being disrespected and can even see the relationship slipping into misuse and finally abuse, but they simply lack the tools necessary to assert their right to being treated better. The boy perceives no challenge to his abuse of power and continues headlong down the road to abuse.
Girls must be taught by their parents (fathers and mothers, when possible) how to negotiate relationships, especially when they begin to go sour.
The final reason some teenagers begin to tolerate abuse at an early age is that they are simply spending too much time alone with their boyfriend. Unsupervised time between a boy and girl under the age of 18 holds significant risk. It makes sense that if your daughter spends the vast majority of her dating time with or near a supervising adult, the risk for abuse will plummet. Allow your daughter to spend inordinate amount of time unsupervised with a boy and you are asking for trouble.
This is why I am convinced that one-on-one dating should not be allowed until 16. Call me a fuddy-duddy, but I know I’m right.
*Notice I do not refer to their dating partners as men; that is a term that I exclude from boys who verbally, emotionally, sexually, or physically abuse a woman. A real man would never do or even consider such a heinous and cowardly act.