It can be a stressful time when your teen starts dating, but even more so if you think your child’s significant other is bad news.
Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But not all abuse is physical. Abuse can include anything from physical assault to pressure to have sex to constant put-downs, an explosive temper or extreme jealousy.
“We define dating abuse as a pattern of behaviors in a dating relationship where one person is trying to get control over the other partner,” says Cameka Crawford, spokeswoman for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the youth adult-focused partnership LoveIsRespect.org.
As a parent, if you suspect your teen might be in an abusive relationship, it’s important to approach the topic in a way that allows them to open up, Crawford says.
“With teens, sometimes there is a fear that parents will overreact, blame them or even be disappointed,” she says. “Then there’s the fear that maybe their parents won’t understand what they are going through or even believe it is happening. If your teen is comfortable talking to you, it is important to let them talk to you on their terms and to really listen without judging.”
Be There For Them
Listen and support your teen. Be supportive and non-accusatory. Show concern for her safety and what she is experiencing by saying things like, “You deserve to be in a relationship where you are treated with respect.” Avoid talking about the abuser. Instead focus on the negative behavior by saying something along the lines of, “I don’t like the way your partner is texting you to see where you are.”
“Talking about the behaviors rather than the person shows your child that you respect their feelings,” Crawford says. “Talking negatively about your son’s or daughter’s partner could keep them from asking for help or coming to you in the future.”
Encourage Positive Choices
Jody Todd Manly, clinical director of the Mt. Hope Family Center in Rochester, N.Y, says it is important for parents to discuss what healthy relationships are and how to make good choices—before their teens begin dating.
“Adolescence is a challenging because teens are trying to establish their own autonomy and stand on their own two feet in the world, as well as navigate what it’s like to form a more intimate relationship,” Manly says.
“Positive self-esteem, positive relationships, good communication both with their partner and their family members, those things can be helpful.”