You have tried to do your best in raising your children. No one gave you clear instructions for each situation you may have encountered, but you took and utilized every bit of knowledge you had in order to help your children grow into responsible teens, hoping they would one day become successful adults.
As a parent, you may have made most decisions when your children were young. But as our children become teenagers, there will also come a time when they have to start making their own decisions, especially as they begin dating.
You may know (or have learned) that voiced disapproval of a teen’s current love interest is only likely to cement their affections, so you may have decided it’s better to wait quietly and patiently for teen love to run its course. However, there are some circumstances in which you may be unable to keep quiet, but you might still struggle to know how to begin a conversation with your teen.
How can you, as a concerned parent, intervene if you believe your teen is experiencing dating violence?
First, Know the Signs
I offer below just a few signs of an abusive relationship. If you notice any of these in your teen, think there might be something controlling about the relationship, or just have a feeling that something is wrong or “off” about the relationship (beyond a general parental instinct toward protectiveness) don’t keep your concerns to yourself. If your teen has been sexually or physically abused, it is important that you protect them and report the abuse to the authorities.
- Isolation. A teen who is experiencing dating violence may suddenly begin to isolate from friends and family and only spend time with the person they are dating. They may cancel plans they have made because the abusive partner does not want them to attend the events.
- Excessive texts or phone calls. Abusive partners tend to want to know where their partner is at all times. They may call and text excessively and/or demand to be informed of their partner’s whereabouts at all times. Your teen might seem stressed about having to respond to them and/or afraid of missing a call.
- Unexplained bruises/marks. Someone experiencing dating violence may have unexplained bruises and become nervous when asked about bruises or marks on their bodies. They may give different stories for the same mark or may become upset or defensive when asked about it.
- Excusing inappropriate behavior. Teens who feel ready for love and want their romantic relationships to work out may make excuses for the inappropriate or abusive behavior of their partner. For example, a teen might say their partner only called 20 times because they were worried, or that their partner only puts them down so they can learn from their mistakes and become better people.
- Having to ask for permission. A partner who is abusive typically wants to exert control. They may require the person they are dating to ask for permission before wearing certain clothes, talking to certain people, going out, and so on. The person experiencing the abuse may be frequently checking in with their partner, asking if they can engage in certain activities, such as going to the movies, going out to dinner with a group of friends, wearing shorts, and so on.
Discussing Your Concerns with Your Teen
Although talking about abuse with your child may be awkward and difficult, it is important for them to be aware that you are concerned about their relationship.
It is possible for you to do this in a way that lets them know you care, want what is best for them, and are there to help—without making them feel as if they are being lectured or blamed. Your teen may be defensive at first and outright deny any abuse. Recognize that it may be hard for them to accept, and be patient.
- DO ask questions about their relationship with genuine concern. Allow for discussion and conversation to flow.
- DON’T interrupt when they are speaking or do the majority of the talking.
- DO listen to how they answer your questions. Ask for their thoughts on the behaviors you have pointed out to them.
- DON’T shame them for not recognizing abusive behavior.
- DO gently educate them on what a respectful romantic relationship does and does not look like.
- DO give them time to think about the conversation, letting them know you are always available to talk or offer support. Let them know you will help them find a therapist or counselor if they want to talk to a trained mental health professional.
- DO ask (no matter how difficult it may be) if they have been coerced to engage in sexual activities they did not intend to engage in or if they have been physically or sexually harmed by their partner or at the request of their partner.
- DO remind them that their safety is the most important thing to you.
Create a Safety Plan
Some teens may be hesitant to admit (or even consider) that they are in an abusive or violent relationship. Even if they aren’t ready to accept that what they are experiencing is abuse, it is important to create a safety plan with them. You can tell them it’s for your own peace of mind, or “just in case.” However you frame it, make sure your teen has access to the following resources—they might help keep them safe in the future.
1. Provide them with dating violence hotline numbers.
California Youth Crisis Line (1-800-843-5200)
National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline (1-866-331-9474) or text “loveis” to 22522, any time, 24/7/365.
Text TEEN to 839-863
2. Help them identify at least three safe people they can reach out to for help.
Your teen may not feel comfortable going to a parent for help, especially about their relationship. Let them know it is okay for them to choose to talk to another responsible adult who can provide help. Set a guideline that safe people they can go to must be adults both you and your teen can trust, such as a teacher, other school staff member, clergy, counselor, relative or adult sibling, family friend, etc.
3. Identify when to call 911.
Though your teen likely knows what an emergency is, they may minimize their partner’s dangerous behavior toward them. Help your teen identify some situations they may find themselves in where it would be a good idea to call 911. Let them know it is okay to call 911 if they feel they, or a loved one, are in imminent physical danger—even if they think there is only a possibility of harm.
4. Connect them with a neutral source of support.
If your teen does not open up to you, it may help to suggest they speak to a neutral person, such as a counselor or therapist. Even if your teen has already broken off an abusive relationship, their self-esteem, view of relationships, and/or ability to trust others may have sustained damage that can be improved with therapy.
Encourage your teen to consider speaking to a counselor or therapist, and offer to help them find a therapist near you. GoodTherapy.org’s therapist directory is a good place to start!
- 5 early warning signs of dating violence. (2017, October 7). Teen Dating Violence. Retrieved from https://www.teendvmonth.org/5-early-warning-signs-of-dating-violence
- How to talk to your teen about dating violence. (2017, March 22). Teen Dating Violence. Retrieved from https://www.teendvmonth.org/talk-teen-dating-violence
- Youth yellow pages: Dating violence. (n.d.). Teen Line. Retrieved from https://teenlineonline.org/youth-yellow-pages/dating-violence/?gclid
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