Tips for Talking to Your Teen About Dating Abuse
So, you just found out that 1 in 3 teens is experiencing abuse in their relationships. Or maybe you’ve read that only 1 in 4 parents will speak about teen dating abuse to their adolescent children. Either way, you want to protect your child and be That Parent: the one who had the all-important conversation.
It's crucial to speak to your child before they begin dating, not after! Don’t assume that your teenager is too young, won't be dating, or is too smart or savvy to be affected by dating abuse. Many teens have hidden an abusive experience for year to keep from letting you down, worrying you or angering you.
The time to talk is now!
First, download Share The 8 Before It’s Too Late from the EndAbuse4Good website, or pop open the webpage on your laptop or mobil platform.
1. “What have you already heard about teen dating abuse?”
This question is the perfect opener. It's not a yes or no question, you get to hear where your child is at, and your child gets to share what they know with you. Don't let an eye roll stop you! Then, help your child understand why you wanted to know.
An example would be: “I recently just found out that 1 in 3 teens experience abuse in their relationships, and I want to make sure that you are okay. Let’s take a look at this list and see what it’s all about.”
You can also ask your child, “Do you know anyone who likes someone or is dating someone? You don’t have to name names.” This allows your teen to talk about this subject without feeling exposed. All parents value honesty between themselves and their children, but you don’t want to lose out on having this important conversation simply because your child isn’t ready to share.
2. Be comfortable sharing yourself.
Your adolescent does not need to think that you are perfect or have never had a problem. Quite the opposite! Be a human being first and a parent second. Read the 8 signs together! If any of those behaviors has ever impacted your life, it’s important to share with your child. Many teens have told us that they were both surprised and touched when their own parents opened up about past experiences that were abusive. The ensuing dialogue was profound and impactful.
3. Leave judgment at the door. That includes you and your child.
You truly want to protect your child, so it’s important that he/she feels supported and not judged. Allow your child to realize that you are only there to do anything you can to keep them safe. Keep calm, remember to breath, and resist any urge to raise your voice or make anyone wrong. Speak to your child the way you wish someone would speak to you.
4. Ask the hard questions, gently.
Ask your child these three questions:
“Has anyone ever made you feel afraid, or controlled or bad about yourself?
“Is there any relationship in your life that includes any of these 8 signs of abuse – either a friend or someone you like?”
“Would you feel comfortable telling me if any of these situations ever did happen to you?”
If the answer to the first two questions is yes, then the information that follows will guide you to the appropriate help. If the answer to the last question is “no,” don’t panic and don’t feel like a bad parent. The goal here is simply to get to yes. Without upset or judgment, inform your child that you are indeed on his/her side and would be there to help, no matter the circumstances. Ask your child, “What could I do to change that answer to a yes?” Just listen.
Inform your child: “There is No Excuse for anyone abusing you – no matter what you think you did or didn’t do.” Your child may blame him or herself so it’s critical that you explain: “Although an individual may blame their behavior on you, everyone is responsible for what they choose to do. Don’t blame yourself, ever, for someone else’s abusive behavior.” Let your child know, “We all need help sometimes – I do, too.”
6. Threats won’t work.
Tell your child, “One of the most frequent ways that abusers keep victims silent is by threatening to hurt the victim’s loved ones, or you or themselves. Never ever stay silent because someone threatens to hurt me or anyone else you love. If you stay silent, you could be abused even worse, regardless of keeping quiet. But if you tell me, the police and I will stop this person.” Ask your child, “Did you know it’s actually against the law to threaten to harm another person?”
7. What if your child needs help?
If your child has been verbally threatened or physically assaulted on any level, immediately inform the local police.
If your child has been bullied or abused by someone at a local group, school or club, also immediately inform the authorities at that location.
And call 1 -800-799-SAFE right away – there are people ready to help you and your child by pointing you to the available resources in your area.
8. You did it!
It might have gone really well. Or, you might be shaking your head thinking, “Wow I messed that up” or “I could have handled that better”, but guess what? You did it!
And just by sharing the information, you’ve opened up your child’s mind to the fact that abuse exists. You showed them what it is, told them that it’s wrong, and assured them that they deserve better. You’re a loving, awesome parent!