Before you start the conversation, here are some tips for preparing to talk with your teen about teen dating violence.
Don’t Go on the Offensive
When it comes to talking about your teen’s boy/girlfriend, don’t attack the abuser with words. This may put your teen on the defensive, since there’s something they liked about that person to begin with. Don’t give ultimatums or insist that they to break up with him/ her, either. These behaviors will only push your teen closer to the abusive partner and further away from you. She may feel that she has to “rescue” him, and that you just don’t understand him.
Listen and Believe
Listen openly and without judgment of your teen. If they open up to you, they may include details of things they had lied about. Let your teen know that the abuse is not their fault, no one deserves to be treated like this. Keep the lines of communication open by letting them know you are there for them, whatever they decide about the relationship.
Teach Love as a Behavior
Start talking to your teen about love as a behavior, rather than a feeling. You can point out behaviors that you see on the abuser’s part: name-calling, telling lies, cheating. Ask if your teen considers those behaviors as loving and caring. Doing so opens up her mind, helping her to make good decisions. Helping them focus on what they want can bring some perspective as to what they are now getting
Assess the Danger
Has the abuser every threatened to hurt/kill your teen? Themselves? Others? Have they hurt animals/pets? Do they have access to weapons? All these things indicate a more lethal situation. It may be important to work with your local crisis center to do a safety plan with your teen, especially since they may attend the same school as their partner. Also, never ask about abuse in front of the abuser…this is not safe and may put your teen at greater risk. Restraining orders may be an option for your teen if that’s what they decide they want.
Let them know they are not alone, and help them identify other people they can talk to. Teens often feel most inclined to talk to peers about abuse. Give information to your teen about your local crisis center, emphasizing that they are there to listen and support…not to preach and tell the teen what to do. It’s best to help your teen rebuild their social support network
Here are a few questions you can ask to get the conversation started
- How are things going?
- What are your friends’ dating relationships like?
- Have you ever seen any kind of abusive behavior between two people who are going out?
- Why do you think someone would abuse someone they were dating?
- Why might a person stay in an abusive relationship?
- What makes a relationship healthy?
- What can you do if you have a friend who is threatened or a friend who is abusive?
- What kind of messages about dating abuse and relationships do we see in the media?
- If your teen is dating someone… ask, How is your relationship going?
- Where can you go to find help if you or a friend needs it?
- In families in which one spouse or partner batters the other, the rate of child abuse or serious neglect is 1,500 percent higher than the national average. Research indicates that domestic abuse in a family may be the single most important risk factor for child abuse.
- A study of 900 children at abused women’s shelters found that nearly 70 percent were themselves victims of physical abuse or neglect. Nearly half of the children had been physically or sexually abused. Five percent had been hospitalized due to abuse. However, only 20 percent had been identified and helped by social workers prior to coming to the shelter.
- Fathers who abuse their partners are three times more likely than other fathers to abuse their children.
- Children risk injury in violent homes even when they are not the intended victims. They may be hurt when things are thrown or weapons are used. Infants may be injured if they are being held by their mothers when the abuse strikes.
- People who abuse often use the children to try to control their partners. For example, abusers often threaten to harm the children to stop their partners from leaving them.
- Even children who are not physically abused suffer emotional and psychological trauma in violent homes. They often experience depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, fear and guilt. They are more likely to have stress-related physical ailments, such as headaches, ulcers and rashes. They may become withdrawn or apathetic, feel shame and humiliation over belonging to a deviant family, or feel responsible for the violence.
- Witnessing violence seems to be more detrimental to pre-school children than older children.
- Boys who witness their mother being abused are more likely to abuse their female partners as adults than boys raised in non-violent homes. There is no evidence that girls who witness the same abuse are at higher risk of being battered adults.
- Children from violent homes have a substantially higher risk of abusing alcohol or drugs or becoming juvenile delinquents.
- Most violent criminals were raised in abusive homes.
When thinking of the typical victim of domestic abuse, most people are quick to name women, however, a group that is often a last thought are the children.
Indicators that a Child may be Witnessing Abuse
Studies have shown that children who witness domestic violence suffer the same kind of psychological trauma as children who are the direct, intended targets of abuse. Therefore, indicators that a child is witnessing domestic violence may be similar to the indicators that a child is a victim of abuse. Some of these indicators may include:
Stress Related Physical ailments (i.e. headaches, rashes, stomach aches, etc)
Unexplained injuries (may have occurred if victim parent was holding the child, if child tried to intervene, if child was struck by a thrown object, etc)
Some of the following contradictory behaviors may be observed…
Child may be overly compliant and eager to please, or may have challenging behaviors such as aggressive or even violent tendencies
S/he may be immature for his/her age (cries easily, bed wetting, thumb sucking) or may be “parentified” and mature
The child may be protective of and “clingy” to the victim parent, or may be abusive to the victim parent (it has been modeled for him/her and may be safer for the child to ally him/herself with the abuser rather than the victim)
S/he may have a preoccupation with violent toys/ shows or may be extremely sensitive and easily upset by them. S/he may even seem indifferent (i.e. accustomed to real or television violence)
S/he may startle easily and be very “tuned in” to conflicts between others, watching them closely to see if they will escalate. Or the child may seem especially relaxed in the daycare/school setting and may be reluctant to go home.
The child may display signs of severe depression and may even become suicidal
Children of violence struggle to learn boundaries
Violence results in stress, depression and flashbacks
This list is not all-inclusive. You may observe indicators not on this list, or you may observe more indications during your interactions with the victim parent than with the children.