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For Parents

What Every Parent Needs to Know

Important Information for Parents

Parents are very often the first to see the signs of dating violence in their teens. Very often, however, the do not realize that they are seeing signs of dating violence. And, parents have a hard time knowing what to say or how to say it or how to get their teens help.

If you are a parent concerned about your teen, or just about a friend for family member, this information will help you recognize it and know how to help.

Recognizing Dating Violence: Things to Look For if You Are a Parent

If you have a teen who is dating, be alert for signs of abuse, both physical and emotional.

Outward signs can include having bruises, scratches or other injuries and sudden changes in mood or personality.

Talking to your teen

The most important step is starting a conversation with your teen about an issue that can be very scary and embarrassing.  The following tips and resources can help.

Finding the right moment to talk with your teen may seem daunting, and the truth is there is no perfect time or place.

Find a quiet place. Take your teen for a drive or to a quiet cafe with no distractions. You obviously want good results.

Remember this conversation has two primary goals.

1. You want to have a conversation which reinforces your teen that you are a real resource that they are safe going to. This means you want your child to know you will act to help them and will be a non-judgmental listener.

2. You want your teen to understand that there are realistic strategies for safety and dealing with the situation.

A good way to begin is by simply asking, “How’s it going?”.

Ease into this conversation so your teen won’t feel like they're on the spot. Acknowledge their answer and feelings.

Depending on their mood, the next step may be asking:

  • “What are your friends’ dating relationships like?”
  • What’s the difference between “dating” and “committed” relationships?
  • How long do the couples you know stay together?
  • Do they make any kind of commitment to each other?
  • Are there certain things girls want that boys don’t?
  • Are there certain things that boys want that girls don’t?

These questions may give you insight into how your teen views relationships. You may find stereotypical themes in your teen’s view of relationships or you may find your teen thinks mutual respect is key in any relationship. You will only find out by asking.

You may want to ask your teen if they have ever seen any abusive behavior between two people who are going out. Offer a scenario. “A boy sees his girlfriend talking to another guy, so he pulls her by the arm and yanks her away.” Would you call this violent? What does your son think about this behavior? Would you be shocked if your daughter said it was “just what guys do” and “no big deal”?

Tips for having the conversation

  • Start the conversation. It is not easy to talk about such a painful topic. Imagine how hard it must be for your child to raise the issue -- especially if she is a victim of dating violence. Ask about your teen's relationships by showing concern rather than judgment, so your child does not feel threatened.
  • Talk with your kids on their level. Teens don't always get it when you speak to them in abstract terms. Honesty discuss dating and dating violence, using examples such as public figures, book, movie or television characters, or people they know. Use both positive and negative examples.
  • Talk often. This will help establish clear channels of communication that confirms your interest in your teen's life. Don't be afraid to ask questions and be honest when responding to your child's questions.
  • Be available. Let your teen know that you are always available to talk with her and that nothing is more important to you than her well being. Your child will never open up about such a difficult topic if she feels that you don't have the time to talk about it.
  • Give your undivided attention. Your attention should be completely focused on your child and what she has to say. Don't be distracted or allow anything to interrupt your time together. Turn off the television, allow the voice mail to pick up any incoming calls and sit down with your child, one-to-one in a relaxed environment.
  • Don't be upset. Try not to get upset if your child is more comfortable talking with another trusted adult, such as a relative, teacher, coach, neighbor or religious leader. It is important that they know you are OK with them talking to another adult. Remember, the important thing is that they are turning to someone for advice.
  • Don’t be afraid to let him or her know that you are concerned for their safety. Help your friend or family member recognize the abuse. Tell him or her you see what is going on and that you want to help. Help them recognize that what is happening is not “normal” and that they deserve a healthy, non-violent relationship.
  • Acknowledge that he or she is in a very difficult and scary situation. Let them know that the abuse is not their fault. Reassure them that they are not alone and that there is help and support out there.
  • Be supportive. Listen to them. Remember that it may be difficult for them to talk about the abuse. Let them know that you are available to help whenever they may need it. What they need most is someone who will believe and listen to them.
  • Don’t Judge. Respect their decisions. There are many reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships. They may leave and return to the relationship many times. Do not criticize their decisions or try to guilt them. They will need your support even more during those times.
  • Encourage them to participate in activities outside of the relationship with friends and family.

Things TO say or do

  • “I care about what happens to you. I love you and I want to help.”
  • “If you feel afraid, it may be abuse. Sometimes people behave in ways that are scary and make you feel threatened -- even without using physical violence. Pay attention to your gut feelings.”
  • “The abuse is not your fault. You are not to blame, no matter how guilty the person doing this to you is trying to make you feel. Your partner should not be doing this to you.”
  • “It is the abuser who has a problem, not you. It is not your responsibility to help this person change.”
  • "It is important to talk about this. Many people who have been victims of dating violence have been able to change their lives after they began talking to others. If you don't want to talk with me, find someone you trust and talk with that person.”

Things to NOT Say or Do

  • Do not be critical of your teen or his/her partner.
  • Don’t ask blaming questions such as: “Why don’t you break up with him/her?” or “What did you say to provoke your partner?”
  • Don’t pressure your teen into making quick decisions, let them know that you are there for them whether they decide to move forward now, change their mind, or move forward in the future
  • Don’t talk to both teens together. The victim may feel inhibited about what he/she can say.
  • Don’t assume that the victim wants to leave the abusive relationship. Assist him/her in assessing the situation and understanding the options available

If Your Teen Doesn’t Want to Talk to You

Because the teen years are a time of asserting independence, often teens won't discuss things with their parents. But you can still encourage respectful discussion and try to keep communication lines open. Let your teen know that you will respect their privacy, and you respect them. Ask them what things they think are abusive; then you can add to the list. Tell them if they do ever experience abuse in their relationships, they can talk to you about it. Let them know that you will not judge them or blame them about the experience no matter what and stick to that promise.

Also suggest others adults they could talk to about experiencing violence, such as a favorite teacher, a school counselor, a mentor, a spiritual leader/clergy, another family member they trust and respect like a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or even a trusted family friend. Make sure they have their phone numbers and know how to contact them. Provide them with hotline numbers they can call without giving their name if they do experience abuse, and encourage them to share the numbers with their friends.

Why Teens Don’t Tell Parents or Friends About the Violence

They are:

  • afraid their parents will make them break up.
  • embarrassed and ashamed.
  • afraid of getting hurt.
  • convinced that it is their fault or that their parents will blame them or will be disappointed.
  • confused -- they may think this is what a relationship is all about.
  • afraid of losing privileges like being able to stay out late or use the car.

They:

  • have little or no experience with healthy dating relationships.
  • believe being involved with someone is the most important thing in their life.
  • confuse jealousy with love.
  • do not realize they are being abused.
  • do not think friends and others would believe this is happening.
  • have lost touch with friends.
  • know that the abuser acts nice -- sometimes.

Help them to develop a safety plan.

If they end the relationship, continue to be supportive of them. Even though the relationship was abusive, they may still feel sad and lonely once it is over. They will need time to mourn the loss of the relationship and will especially need your support at that time.

Encourage them to talk to people who can provide help and guidance. Find a local domestic violence agency that provides counseling or support groups. Offer to go with them to talk to family and friends. If they have to go to the police, court or a lawyer, offer to go along for moral support.

Remember that you cannot “rescue” them. Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately the person getting hurt has to be the one to decide that they want to do something about it. It’s important for you to support them and help them find a way to safety and peace.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have a teen who is dating, be alert for signs of abuse, both physical and emotional. Outward signs include: 

  • Having bruises, scratches and other injuries. 
  • Changing the way she looks or dresses. 
  • Failing grades or dropping out of school activities
  • Avioding and dropping old friends.
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Sudden changes in mood or personality; becoming depressed or anxious, being secretive 
  • Giving up things she cares about.
  • Pregnancy- some teenagers believe that having a baby will help make things better; some girls are forced to have sex 

New friends as well as changes in attitudes, styles, hobbies, and school activities are common in young people. Still, they can be clues that a teen is being controlled by a boyfriend or girlfriend. 

Warning signs of a Partner Who May Become Violent:

  • Wants to get serious quickly- will not take NO for an answer
  • Is jealous and possesive/controlling and bossy
  • Uses guilt trips: "If you really loved me, you would..."
  • Blames the victim for what is wrong: "It's because of you that I get so mad"
  • Apologizes for violent behavior: "I promise I'll never do it again"

Emotional abuse is harder to recognize than physical abuse since it happens over time and can take several forms, including: 

  • Name-calling 
  • Put downs 
  • Blame
  • Threats 
  • Envy 
  • Anger
  • Attempts to control a partner’s dress, activities, and friendships 

A young person who suffers emotional abuse may become insecure, destructive, angry, or withdrawn. He also may abuse alcohol or drugs.

  • Relationship violence is the number one cause of injury to women between the ages of 15-44. 
  • 70% of severe injuries and deaths occur when the victim is trying to leave or has already left the relationship. 
  • 70% of pregnant teenagers are abused by their partners.
  • 63% of boys ages 11-20 arrested for murder were arrested for murdering the man who was assaulting their mother. 
  • 38% of date rape victims are young women between the ages of 14 and 17. 
  • 24% of female homicide victims are between 15 and 24 years old.

How to Prevent Dating Violence

First of all, be sure to talk to your kids about violence and abusive relationships when they are young and continue to talk about it throughout their teen years. Let them know that no form of violence is acceptable behavior; they should not hurt others, and others should not hurt them. Suggest ways of dealing with a violent situation if it occurs.

Second, demonstrating appropriate non-violent ways of acting and positive ways of handling conflict in your relationships is one of the most effective ways to teach your kids to avoid violence. In other words, simply show your kids by example how to behave appropriately. Treating yourself and your partner with respect will teach your kids to do the same in their dating relationships. How you handle conflict with your child will also teach her or him how to behave and how they should be treated.

Third, role playing can be a fun, and it is an effective way of teaching kids and teens appropriate ways of removing themselves from the immediate situation of violence and seeking help. In this case, role playing is simply setting up a pretend situation when dating violence may occur. Each person acts out the role, pretending to be in that situation. Many different solutions can come up during role playing. It's a great way to teach kids and teens what might work and what might not. Do not actually engage in violence during the role play.
Here are some suggestions for role playing. Role playing is most successful when you each take on different roles with each situation.
A dating partner becomes jealous and tries to control what the other does, where they go or whom they talk to. On a date, the girl is in her partner's car in a deserted area, and he tries to force her to have sex. One person has just been slapped, pinched, or punched by the dating partner at school. A dating partner calls the other names and threatens him/her. One friend tells another their dating partner abuses them.

How can I help my son choose not to be violent in dating relationships?

Studies have show that boys are more likely to initiate violence in dating relationships and that when they do act violently, it is more likely to cause serious harm to their dating partners. For this reason, it is especially important that we teach our sons to respect girls as valuable human beings and equals. Teach your son appropriate ways of dealing with conflict. Talk to your son about how you expect him to treat his dates. Finally, let your sons know that they are valuable young men who have a lot to contribute.

Teen dating violence is similar to adult domestic violence in several ways: 

  • Both teen dating violence and adult domestic violence effect people from all socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic, and religious groups 
  • Both occur in heterosexual, gay, and lesbian relationships 
  • Both tend to show patterns of repeated violence which escalate over time 
  • Both tend to display violent and abusive behavior interchanged with apologies and promises to change 
  • Both tend to show increased danger for the victim when she is

Teen Dating Violence is also very different from adult domestic violence.

There are several things that make teenage dating violence different from adult domestic violence. Usually, when a teen is abused, she becomes isolated from her peers because of the controlling behavior of her abusive partner.

The isolation teens face in abusive dating situations often makes it hard to:

  • develop new and mature relationships with peers of both sexes. 
  • feel emotionally independent. 
  • develop personal values and beliefs. 
  • stay focused on school and get good grades.
  • Relationship violence can occur at school — in the hall, in the classroom, in the parking lot, on the bus, at after-school activities, or at a school dance.
  • Abuse can happen at a student’s workplace, or at a student’s home. 
  • In teenage dating relationships, the abuse is often public with peers witnessing the abuse; however, the abuse can also occur in private.

Abuse can happen any time the dating partners are together. Some studies show that abuse in dating relationships is more likely to occur on the weekends, possibly because that is when most dates occur. However, one study showed that a lot of dating violence occurs at school, either in the building or on the grounds.

  • One study showed that a little over one-third of both girls and boys said they had been physically abused by a dating partner, but the experience was much worse for girls than boys. 
  • Girls experienced the more severe forms of violence and the boys experienced less severe forms. 
  • For example, girls "are much more likely to be punched and forced to engage in sexual activity against their will" (rape). 
  • Boys are more likely "to be pinched, slapped, scratched, and kicked" (Molidor: 2000).
  • Boys also said that when they did experience physical violence they usually did not get hurt. 
  • However, almost 50% of the girls said the violence was severe, that their dating partner "hurt me a lot" and "caused bruises", and/or they "needed medical attention" because of their injuries.
  • Because girls often fight back, it is likely that many of the physically violent experiences the boys report are due to girls defending themselves against their boyfriends abusing them or forcing them to have sex.
  • Also, girls said that it was the boys who most often started the physical violence (70% of abusive acts) while boys said the girls started the abuse less than one third of the time (27%).

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