First let’s get something straight. Both guys and girls can be abused by a dating partner. This is sometimes hard for a parent to believe but it does happen.
Do you suspect your child is being intimidated, coerced, or abused by a dating partner? If you know your child pretty well chances are something is going on. Some of the warning signs that your child is in trouble are:
- · Change in eating or sleeping habits
- · Acting out: aggressive or inappropriate behavior
- · Attention-seeking behavior
- · Increased risk taking
- · Deteriorating school performance
- · Fear of attending school
- · Poor peer relations, withdrawal
- · Physical signs of stress: headache, stomachache
- · Nightmares
- · Anger
- · Hopelessness
- · Helplessness
- · Loss of control or powerlessness
- · Concentration difficulties
- · Clinginess
- · Mood swings
- · Depression
- · Anxiety
Don’t ignore the warning signs. Your child can suffer long term effects from negative relationships. It’s sometimes uncomfortable to discuss relationship matters with your teen. We all know teens tend to be “private” and feel they are grown enough to make their own decisions. But more often a teen who is in an abusive or controlling relationship does not know how to handle it. She/he may be embarrassed by the situation. What can do or say to open communications?
- · Remain calm in front of your teen.
- · Remember that your teen will be aware of and affected by your reactions.
- · Focus on what your teen needs.
- · Avoid being judgmental. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone makes bad decisions. This NEVER means it’s all right for one person to harm another.
- · Just listen—let your child vent and don’t try to have answers for everything.
- · Validate that the crime was horrible and that you are sorry it happened.
- · Ask your child to talk about how he or she reacted to the event.
- · Accept that your teen may be acting differently, but set appropriate limits. For instance, your teen may be expressing a lot of anger, but it is still inappropriate for him or her to throw things, break things, or be violent.
- · Give your teen time to process what happened.
- · Help your teen mobilize his or her own resources—friends, teachers, coaches, siblings, and other family members who can be supportive.
Good advice but what do you SAY?
- · Nothing you did (or didn’t do) makes you deserve this.
- · ‘m glad you told me.
- · How can I/we help you feel safer?
- · I love you.
- · I’m proud of you.
- · This happens to other people. Would it help to talk with some of them?
- · I’m sorry this happened.
- · I believe you.
- · I’ll support your decisions.
Things you should ABSOLUTELY avoid saying. Think about what you will say before initiating a conversation with your teen. You want to open communication, not shut it off before it even begins.
- · This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t ________________.
- · I told you not to: go to that party, date that person, and hang out with those people.
- · Just forget it ever happened.
- · Get over it.
- · This is private. Don’t tell anyone what happened.
- · Try not to think about it.
- · This is all my fault.
- · I want to kill the person who hurt you.
You probably think you would never say any of those things. But as parents when we are upset sometimes do we do speak before we think. Have a basic idea of how you will approach your teen and what you will say.
Now that things are out in the open what do you and your teen do next? (Keep in mind you still might not have the entire story.) Discuss options. Based on what the abuse is you have several paths you can follow. Remember this is something you and your teen need to discuss calmly and decide together what actions to take. There may come a time when you do have to insist on stronger actions that your teen wants. At that point it may be necessary to encourage your teen to speak with a professional confidentially. Emphasize that a counselor is obligated to keep information confidential and the teen’s privacy will be respected. That means you cannot insist you be present or receive feedback without your child’s permission. Usually once a teen has opened up to someone they are more likely to talk to parents or have the counselor talk to the parent.
- · Contacting victim service providers for emotional support, safety planning, and more information about other resources and legal rights.
- · Reporting to police and beginning the criminal justice process.
- · Reporting to school authorities.
- · Accessing mental health and medical services.
- · Considering civil justice options (filing a civil suit against the perpetrator or other responsible parties).
You may find that other family members; siblings, the other parent or parent’s significant other, grandparents, may be affected by what the teen is experiencing. It is important to remember that the perpetrator is the responsible party. You are all victims of the abuse and counseling may be a good idea for the whole family.
Most importantly, don’t shut your eyes to what is happening. If you are concerned you should express it. For more information there are many agencies you can contact and websites you can visit.