Teen dating violence is more common than most people think. In fact, one in three teens in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual, digital, verbal, or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults. And of those involved in an abusive relationship, only 1/3 will confide in someone about the violence they’re experiencing.
SVMC Pediatrician Dr. Ebrahim Ghazali notes that awareness is the first step in helping teens in an abusive relationship. "The challenge," he says, "is that very often parents are overconfident in their abilities to recognize signs of trouble."
Citing a recent study, Ghazali says, "Eighty-two percent of surveyed parents said they think they could tell if their child was in an abusive relationship when, in fact, only 45% of those surveyed were able to recognize the warning signs and red flags."
He adds, "Because teens who are in abusive relationships often hesitate to ask for help for fear of getting in trouble or getting their partner in trouble, it's important that parents be familiar with the signs of abuse."
Some of the warning signs of relationship abuse include:
- They become depressed, anxious, or have other changes in personality
- Stop seeing friends and family members and becomes more isolated
- Changes in appearance or eating habits
- Apologizing for their partner's behavior and making excuses for them
- Loss of interest in activities that she or he used to enjoy
- Doing poorly in school
- Their partner controls or attempts to control your child's behavior, checks up on them constantly, calling and texting them, demanding to know who they have been with
- Partner checks your child's cell phone, email, or social networks without permission
- When they are together, their boyfriend/girlfriend calls them names, belittles, or puts them down in front of others
- Partner thinks or tells your teen that you (parents) or friends don't like them
- They are constantly worried about making their partner angry
If you suspect your child is in an abusive relationship, it's important to let them know that can open up to you without fear of judgment or punishment.
"Good communication is key," says Dr. Ghazali. "Fostering open and candid conversations is extremely helpful. If you decide to approach your child on the subject, choose your words carefully. Saying, 'You look sad,' is a terrible opener. Instead, opt for a gentler, less judging approach such as, 'Are you doing okay?' or 'I'm worried about you.' Very often teens just need someone to push open the door to a discussion."
Make sure your child understands that you are not finding fault or blaming them and that you are there for them. Keep the focus on your child’s well-being and not the abuser. It’s also important to recognize that the decision to end the relationship is your child’s to make. You cannot force that upon them.
NOTE: for additional tips on starting a discussion about abusive relationships with your teen, visit reachoutwny.org/parents/.
If your teen is resistant to your efforts, you can try directing them to online resources which offers confidential online support to young people with questions or concerns about dating relationships.
Loveisrespect.org, for example, provides free and confidential phone, live chat and texting services 24/7/365.
Chat at www.loveisrespect.org
Text LOVEIS to 22522*
Thehotline.org also offers free live online chat services 24/7, as well as a telephone hotline.