Considerations for Parents
As a parent, it is important to know that young people have a unique set of factors affecting their choices regarding dating relationships, including peer pressure, the desire to be popular, lack of dating experience, and mistaking jealous and controlling behavior for “love.” They may be struggling with their sexual orientation and identity. Violence in their dating relationship may cause more stress and lead to more traumatic experiences for these young adults. Many popular movies, songs and video games desensitize our youth to violence, particularly violence against women, and reinforce the stereotype that a girl is a guy’s property and that he is the one in charge.
If You Think Your Child Is Being Abused
Parents and concerned others can keep an eye out for warning signs by answering the following:
- Have they had a recent change in appearance or behavior?
- Do they apologize for their boyfriend or girlfriend’s behavior?
- Do they spend all their time with their boyfriend or girlfriend?
- Does their boyfriend or girlfriend check up on them constantly or use technology to watch or keep track of them (i.e., cell phone, computer, social media)?
- Does their boyfriend or girlfriend call them nasty names or put them down?
- Have they given up interests such as friends, sports, or other extra-curricular activities?
- Are they afraid to break up with their boyfriend or girlfriend?
- Do they have injuries they can’t explain?
- Does their boyfriend or girlfriend hurt themselves, others, or pets?
If you think your child is being abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend, there are things you can do. If you feel uncomfortable discussing these issues directly, or think your child may not talk to you, it may be helpful to print out information about teen dating violence and leave it in a public family area for them to read when they are alone. You can also provide them with contact information for other trusted adults or helplines. Keep in mind that if this information is kept somewhere the abuser may be able to see, it could be very dangerous. Also, do not confront someone you believe is an abuser until you have helped your child plan for their safety. Although an abuser may seem calm when they are talking with you, they could take out their anger on your child the next time they are alone. Consider contacting your local domestic violence program for ideas about safety planning and options.
What to do:
- Just listen. Your son or daughter may need to “vent” about what happened.
- Work hard to show empathy and care for your child, but not shock about what they are saying. If they think you can’t handle what they’re telling you they may be more likely to hide further incidents.
- Tell them that you are sorry the abuse happened and it is not their fault.
- Be supportive of your son or daughter by asking them what they are feeling, and what they want. While you may not be able to give them exactly what they ask for, you can honestly tell them that you will do your best to help them in the ways that are most comfortable for them.
- Share information with them or offer to help them seek assistance, but validate their experience and wishes.
- Reach out to others like coaches, teachers, friends, etc. with your child’s permission. These people can be helpful.
- Talk to experts. You don’t have to have all the answers. There are people who can help. See our Resources pages for more information.
What NOT to do:
- Don’t judge or scold them.
- Don’t forbid them from seeing the abuser.
- Don’t approach an abuser without your child’s guidance about when, how, and where to do so.
- Don’t tell them how to handle the situation.
- Don’t force your child to make a certain choice unless you truly feel it is the only choice for their safety and you have discussed your concerns with them extensively.
- Don’t provide explanations or solutions for what has happened.
- Don’t give advice, unless they ask for it.
If You Think Your Child Is an Abuser
What to do:
- Talk to your child about what you’ve seen or heard that concerns you. Keeping quiet about the abuse lets them continue to deny that there is a problem and makes it easier for them to continue abusing their partner.
- Make sure they know there are consequences for being abusive, including:
- being arrested;
- being expelled from school;
- being barred from participating in school activities like sports, dances, extracurricular events; or losing support from friends.
- Let them know you care about them and that you want to help.
- Set a good example by having healthy relationships with the people in your life.
What NOT to do:
- Don’t support the abuse by letting them blame their partner. Being abusive is your child’s choice and nothing their partner does justifies the behavior.
- Don’t turn against them or make them feel like they are a horrible person. It’s important to let them know that you support them even though you disagree with their choices and behavior.
- Don’t assume the problem will just go away. Keep talking to your child about the abuse and offer to listen and support their efforts to change.