Have you noticed changes in your adolescent or teenage child? Perhaps your daughter has started wearing scarves when she never has before, or high-necked shirts and long sleeves even when the weather is warm. She could just be trying something new in her clothing, but she also may be covering something up. Once upon a time when a girl wore a scarf or turtleneck sweater she was covering up evidence of an amorous boyfriend, but now she could be covering up evidence of violence such as bruising on her neck from being choked. Offer to straighten the scarf or put a tag back inside that is sticking out of the collar. If she backs away or gets defensive, it could mean that she is not making a fashion statement; she could be involved in an abusive relationship.
Is your child moody, beyond the normal adolescent hormonal moodiness? A checkup can determine if it is normal hormonal shifts. If your child has a sudden personality change, such as going from outgoing and cheerful to sullen and reserved, or from spending time with friends to avoiding them to spend time with someone they may be dating, or trying to get out of family activities they previously enjoyed and looked forward to to be with that other person, then they may be experiencing an abusive relationship.
Abusive relationships can be emotional, verbal, or physical. If you notice someone your child is dating putting them down calling them ugly, stupid, useless or otherwise criticizing them, this is verbal abuse. Does you child come home with bruises or sprains, torn clothing or maybe bloodied? If your child is involved in sports then this may be normal, but if they come home from a date or spending time with their boyfriend or girlfriend then they may be involved in an abusive relationship that is physical. Physically abusive relationships are where one partner kicks, slaps, hits, or otherwise physically injures the other.
Is your tween or teen isolating themselves and making comments that put themselves down? Ask where this is coming from. Perhaps their dating partner is telling them these things, such as they are putting on weight and need to try to lose it, or change the way they dress to please them. It could be that they have even convinced your child that they are lucky someone like them is even dating your son or daughter (as if somehow they are socially their better). Perhaps they have told your child that if they break up with them they will commit suicide because they cannot live without them, or threaten to hurt your child: “if I can’t have you; no one else can either.” This is emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse can cause your child to become severely self conscious or depressed and they may even have thoughts of suicide. So you notice your child and their dating partner arguing and fighting that often escalates to violence? Does your son or daughter feel the need to apologize for their partner’s attitudes or behaviors?
- Only half of all tweens (children between the ages of 11 and 14) know the signs of abusive relationships. A staggering 62% (who are or have been in a relationship) know friends who have been verbally abused.
- 26% of teenage girls in relationships report being continually verbally abused by their dating partner. 13% report being physically abused.
- Nearly 20% of dating teenage girls reported their boyfriends threatening violence or to do self harm.
- Violent behavior tends to being between 12 and 18 years of age.
- Almost one and a half million high school students have been physically abused by a dating partner in a single year.
- 25% of girls in high school have been physically or sexually abused.
- One third of teenage victims of a violent relationship ever told anyone about it.
What You Can Do
Your son or daughter may deny anything is wrong but if you are monitoring their social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) you may notice disturbing statements by your child or even posts by their friends indicating trouble. Talk to their friends. They may have seen things and been too afraid to hurt their own relationship with your child to say anything to your child, but they may speak to you. It’s scary to know your child may be in an abusive relationship. It does not matter whether it is a same sex or opposite sex relationship, abuse knows no gender.
Explain the signs of relationship abuse with your child by asking questions.
- Is your boyfriend or girlfriend tracking your cell phone calls or your emails?
- Does your boyfriend or girlfriend always want to know where you are?
- Do they call asking what you are doing and who you are with several times a day?
- Is he or she criticizing you?
- Is he or she jealous or insecure?
- Do they have a hot temper that erupts violently and frequently?
- Are they making false accusations such as seeing someone else on the side or lying to him or her?
- Are they trying to isolate you from your family and friends?
- Do they have mood swings – happy one minute and sad or angry the next?
- Are they possessive of you- ‘you belong to me statements’?
- Are they bossy, telling you what to do, where to go, what to eat, how to dress, etc.?
- Is he or she pressuring you to have sex? (The pregnancy rate goes up six times in teenage girls who are physically or sexually abused.)
Explaining the signs of an abusive relationship to your child is not easy and may be met with resistance from your child. They need to know that this behavior is not normal in a healthy relationship. In their eyes this abusive person loves them and they them, but with gentle guidance and support from family and friends, they can get away from the abuser.
It isn’t easy. Leaving a violent relationship can be dangerous and in at least eight states there are no provisions covering dating violence in their domestic violence laws so the victims cannot even get a restraining order against the offender if they want one. Many victims do not want their situations made and so will not seek the help of law enforcement. They may not even admit to you or their friends what is really happening.
Help Your Child Develop a Safety Plan
- Keep a cell phone on them. A relatively inexpensive one can be purchased at most discount stores.
- Keep emergency contacts on speed dial – this includes law enforcement.
- Make others aware of your situation, such as school officials or parents of friends, so that if the abuser accosts your son or daughter, someone will intervene.
- Disable social media’s ability to track where they are.
- Don’t give the abuser the chance to find your child by posting your family’s or child’s whereabouts. Remind your son or daughter not to post or let their friends post the location either.
- Seek counseling, if necessary, for your son or daughter so that they can deal with the abuse. They can see a school counselor or a peer advocate if they are more comfortable.
Remember that leaving the relationship is going to be hard for your son or daughter. If the abuser has emotionally abused them they may feel the need to stay with that person. Be patient and don’t give up. The decision to get out has to be theirs.
Sources: Statistics derived from www.loveisrespect.org, www.safevoices.org, www.ncdsv.org