Being a parent of a teen who is in an apparently health relationship can be daunting, but to have a teen in an unhealthy relationship can be frustrating and very frightening. Yet as a parent you can play a critical role in helping your child learn to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationshps, as well as provide much needed support if they end up in an abusive one. And it’s important to know that whether your teen is in a same-sex or opposite-sex relationship, dating violence can occur.
Warning Signs of Relationship Abuse
Becoming aware of some early warning signs of an abusive relationship can help you identify if your child may be in danger before it’s too late.
- Your teen’s partner is extremely jealous or possessive.
- You notice unexplained marks or bruises.
- Your teen’s partner emails or texts excessively.
- You notice that your teen is depressed or anxious.
- Your teen stops participating in extracurricular activities or other interests.
- Your teen stops spending time with other friends and family.
- Your teen’s partner abuses other people or animals.
- Your teen begins to dress differently.
- Tell your teen you’re concerned for their safety. Point out that what’s happening isn’t “normal.” Everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship.
- Be supportive and understanding. Let them know you’re on their side. Provide information and non-judgmental support. Let your teen know that it’s not their fault and no one “deserves” to be abused. Be clear that you don’t blame them and you respect their choices.
- Believe them and take them seriously. Your teen may be hesitant to share their experiences in fear of no one believing what they say. When you validate their feelings and show your support, they can become more comfortable and trust you with more information. Be careful not to minimize your teen’s situation due to age, inexperience or the length of their relationship.
- Help develop a safety plan. One of the most dangerous times in any abusive relationship is when the victim decides to leave. Be especially supportive during this time and try to connect your teem to support groups or professionals that can help keep them safe.
- Remember that ultimately your teen must be the one who decides to leave the relationship. There are many reasons why victims stay in unhealthy relationships. Your support can make a critical difference in helping your teen find their own way to end their unhealthy relationship.
My Teen is in a Healthy Relationship
It’s never too early to talk to your child about healthy relationships and dating violence. Starting conversations — even if you don’t think your child is dating — is one of the most important steps you can take to help prevent dating violence. You can start a conversation with some of these questions:
- Are any of your friends dating? What are their relationships like? What would you want in a partner?
- Have you witnessed unhealthy relationships or dating abuse at school? How does it make you feel? Were you scared?
- Do you know what you would do if you witnessed or experienced abuse?
- Has anyone you know posted anything bad about a friend online? What happened afterwards?
- Would it be weird if someone you were dating texted you all day to ask you what you’re doing?
Other suggestions to prepare you for talking to your teen about healthy and unhealthy relationships may be:
- Do your own research on dating abuse to get the facts before talking to your teen or 20-something.
- Provide your teen with examples of healthy relationships, pointing out unhealthy behavior. Use examples from your own life, television, movies or music.
- Ask questions and encourage open discussion. Make sure you listen to your teen, giving them a chance to speak. Avoid analyzing, interrupting, lecturing or accusing.
- Keep it low key. Don’t push it if your teen is not ready to talk. Try again another time.
- Be supportive and nonjudgmental so they know they can come to you for help if their relationship becomes unhealthy in the future.
- Admit to not knowing the answer to a particular question. This response builds trust.
- Reinforce that dating should be FUN and stress that violence is never acceptable.
- Discuss the options your teen has if they witness dating abuse or experience it themselves.
- Remind your son or daughter they have the right to say no to anything they’re not comfortable with or ready for. They also must respect the rights of others.
- If your child is in a relationship that feels uncomfortable, awkward or frightening, assure them they can come to you. And remember — any decisions they make about the relationship should be their own.