Trying to hold a conversation with a teen can be difficult. Trying to hold a conversation about a heavy subject like teen dating violence can be even harder for both parent and teen. However, it can be informative for both parent and teen; can be preventative for a teen, and can essentially safe a life.
During adolescence, teens are exploring their identity, and it is highly influenced by peers and significant others. What teens learn and experience during their adolescence will likely shape the adults they become, and that includes the relationships they experience at a young age. Dating violence can have short term and long term effects on a teen’s self-esteem, mental health and future relationships.
It is estimated that 1 in 3 teens will experience some form of dating violence. It is important that as parents and guardians, we are informed of what dating violence can look like in teen relationships.
With children entering adolescence earlier, dating violence can begin as early as middle school. It is important that parents begin having open communication with their teens about what healthy relationships are as early as possible.
If you know your teen is in a relationship, talk to them about respect and boundaries in relationships, including safe sex. It is a common misconception that if we talk to our teen about safe sex, we are somehow encouraging them to engage in the behavior.
However, teens are curious about relationships and sex and will find the information they seek where it is available, whether it be from peers, social media, their significant other or the internet.
It is best that the information come from us as parents who will give them healthy and accurate information as we have their best interest in mind. Warning signs of dating violence to look out for include the following:
- Your teen begins to act differently and is withdrawing or isolating
- Your teen is spending less time with family and friends
- Your teen appears to no longer be interested in hobbies or activities that used to be fun to them
- Your teen has unexplained marks or bruising
- Your teen begins dressing differently
- Your teen is receiving frequent texts and calls from their significant other
- You witness your teen’s significant other be aggressive or abusive to others or animals
- You witness your teen’s significant other be verbally aggressive to your teen
- Your teen appears depressed or anxious
Seeing any of these warning signs can cause great distress and anxiety in a parent, triggering our impulse to fix the problem and remove our teen from that situation. However, it is important that we know how to approach our teens and begin an open conversation about dating violence.
Helping your teen open up about their abusive relationship begins with providing them with a safe space where they do not feel judged. Helpful tips on how to talk to your teen if you suspect they are in an abusive relationship include:
- Express your concern, but remain calm: If you raise your voice or yell, you may end the conversation before it even begins.
- Do not judge: Many teens do not seek help because they feel shame and embarrassed. They may fear that they will get in trouble, so it is important that they know they are safe talking to you about their relationship.
- Provide information: Talk to your teen about healthy relationships and unhealthy relationships. Help your teen identify healthy and unhealthy patterns in their relationship.
- Be prepared to hear anything and everything: Dating violence is a heavy topic. If your teen is in an abuse relationship, be emotionally prepared to hear the ugly truth about their relationship. This may include things like rape, physical violence, verbal abuse and other controlling behaviors.
- Talk about behaviors, not the person: Even when a relationship is abusive, your teen may care about their partner, so it is important that you avoid attacking the abuser as it might make your teen defensive. Focus on discussing the behaviors and how they are not appropriate or healthy for your teen.
- Work together and empower your teen: Come up with a safety plan together on what steps to take next to help your teen get out of the abusive relationship.
- Have resources available: Your teen may not feel comfortable opening up to you completely. Let them know there are others they can talk to. Talk to them about resources like:
- www.loveisrespect.org They can chat with people 24/7 or can text “loveis” to 22522. They can also call their hotline at (866) 331-9474
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-7233
- The Guidance Center (562) 595-1159
Diana Cruz, LCSW is a Clinical Therapist in The Guidance Center’s Long Beach Outpatient Program, where she helps guide children and families struggling with mental health conditions or abuse toward positive and productive futures. She is especially passionate about partnering with teens and their guardians to help them build healthy relationships within their families and externally with their friends and significant others. Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2012, Cruz worked with veterans and their families as a MSW intern. Cruz earned a Master’s Degree in Social Work at University of Southern California.