For many parents, it is hard enough to imagine that their teens are approaching an age that they could even be involved in a healthy relationship. The thought of their kids being involved in a toxic or abusive relationship is almost unthinkable.

The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of teens are, in fact, dating, and too many of those relationships are less than desirable.

We spoke to the Women's Center of New Bedford. They shared some eye-opening statistics with us about teens and dating. Think your teenaged son or daughter isn't dating? You might be right, but the statistics show that it is unlikely. A whopping 72 percent of 13-and-14-year-olds say they are already dating.

A poll of high school sophomores shows that more than one-third of them have been physically or verbally abused, and 31 percent of them were the ones doing the abusing!

Unfortunately, a majority of teenagers in an abusive relationship will do whatever they can to keep the abuse a secret. Only one-third of them ever told anyone about it.

So what are some signs that parents can look out for that might tip them off that their teen is in a toxic relationship? Here are some indicators from youth.gov:

  • Grades slipping. It is very common for students' grades to slip if they are in a bad relationship. It is difficult for teens to maintain good grades and keep up with their schoolwork if they aren't feeling safe.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse. Watch for binge drinking, drugs, and diet pills.
  • Lack of independence. The teens become too dependent on others.
  • Negative body image.
  • Having a hard time establishing an adult identity and building a personal value system.

These are just some examples of how serious it is that we get out in front of this abusive cycle. Thanks to Senator Mark Montigny, the Women's Center of New Bedford has received funding to bring their "SafeDates" program to middle schools and high schools all across the SouthCoast.

If you want the program to make a stop at your child's school, we encourage you to contact the school's administration. If you are a teacher or a school principal, you can find out more about the SafeDates program by calling the Women's Center in New Bedford at (508) 996-3343 ext. 25. Please be aware that dates for this fall are filling up quickly.