Of all the dangers that parents think that they will need to help their teens steer clear of during the adolescent years, relationship violence doesn’t often make the short list. While dating abuse doesn’t get as much awareness as substance abuse or mood disorders, it is frequent enough and serious enough that parents should be aware of the warning signs. Dating abuse occurs in teens from every type of social and ethnic groups regardless of economic background. The three types of tactics used in an abusive relationship are:
1. Emotional/Psychological Abuse – This includes verbal abuse such as name calling, guilt trips, humiliation, possessiveness, threatening to damage the reputation, isolation and intimidation.
2. Physical Abuse – Involves hitting, slapping, shoving, choking or any physical harm. It also includes threats of violence, restraining, property destruction or using weapons to intimidate or control.
3. Sexual Abuse – This includes sexual assault, rape, spreading sexual rumors or sexual jokes or humiliation.
What Do I Look For?
People in violent relationships often display certain behavioral changes or new emotions. As a parent, you are in the unique position of being able to assess any alterations in your teen’s usual personality as long as you know what to watch for.
- Isolation – Does your teen seem less social than she used to be? Abusers often try to isolate their victims from their usual support group in order to keep control of the relationship. It usually begins with friends and then moves to outside activities and family.
- Constant Communication – Does your teen’s significant other call or text constantly in order to know where she is at all times? This may include inquiries about what she is doing, who she is with and what they are talking about.
- Emotional Changes – Once abuse begins, victims are often sad and desperate, but afraid to talk about why.
- Extreme Jealousy – Does interaction with others cause consistent or obsessive jealousy on the part of your teen’s significant other?
- Control – Does your teen receive lots of “advice” on everything from clothing, makeup and hair to friends and social activities? Does she always feel pressured to comply with his choices?
What Can I Do?
Teens are often reluctant to tell their parents about any abuse they are experiencing. They may be ashamed or convinced that the abuse is their fault. They may also be concerned that their parents will be disappointed in them or try to make them break up. Many teens confuse jealousy with love and may not fully recognize that what they are experiencing is not healthy or normal.
If you suspect that your teen is in a violent relationship, you may need to tread carefully even when your instinct is to rush in and forcibly save her. If your teen has been physically injured or assaulted, then you should take immediate action by involving the authorities to guarantee her safety. However, helping your teen in the long run requires educating her and building a relationship of nonjudgmental trust. You should clearly describe what you see happening in their relationship and then give your teen a chance to talk without putting her in a position to have to defend her significant other. Acknowledge that the situation is difficult and frightening, that you want her to be safe and that you want to open the discussion for how you both can accomplish that. Above all, keep the lines of communication open. Teens are notorious for shutting down when pressured. It is important for you to educate your teen about what behaviors are considered abusive in a relationship. If your teen is reluctant to listen to you, a therapist may be a helpful resource for helping your teen become safe and healthy.