Have you had the talk yet?
There are many red flags for dating abuse, but do you or your child know them? Talking to your teen about dating abuse is the first step towards helping them ensure they understand and are aware of what it is, who it affects and its consequences. But without your involvement as a parent, none of these first steps will necessarily happen.
While finding the right moment to talk to them about it may feel like an insurmountable task, these tips can help you connect and potentially prevent dating abuse from happening to your child:
Starting the Conversation: Your goal should be to have a productive conversation, which means supporting and reassuring them you are nonjudgmental and will listen. Get away from others in your family to talk to your teen. Whether you go out for coffee or drive around with just you two in the car, theyâll be more likely to open up if they feel theyâre alone with you and can trust you.
Go Slow: Start by asking a simple question about their life. How are things at school? How are their friends? Do they like anyone? If you start with a dating violence specific question first, you might put them on the spot. And if they try to put you on the spot -- for example, you ask a question and they want to know why you suddenly care -- listen to and acknowledge their feelings. By doing so, you can open the conversation further.
Ask About Their Life: They live their life, not you, so you have to ask about their friends and friendâs relationships to find out what theyâre seeing and hearing. Get to know their world so you can listen and relate to it. How long have their friends dated? Whatâs the difference between a committed relationship versus âhanging outâ or dating? Are there things guys want that girls donât and vice versa?
Learn How They Feel About Roles: Your child may feel very strongly about male and female roles. Maybe this comes from your family, or maybe it comes from somewhere else, like cultural or religious backgrounds. For instance, they may feel that a guy is always in control of a relationship, or that a girl should always do what their partner wants. Or they may feel that mutual respect is the most important part of a relationship. You wonât know until you ask!
And How They Feel About Relationships: Is a relationship based on honesty, or mistrust? Is there open communication or do people shut the other one down to âwinâ an argument? Is it okay to be jealous or possessive? By asking what theyâve observed in your home, youâll have more insight into what theyâve seen or what they believe is important to a relationship.
Find Out What Theyâve Seen: As the conversation progresses, ask if theyâve ever seen abusive behavior or violence from one of their friendâs relationships or heard about it. Talk about the kinds of messages they see in the media about dating, relationships and abuse. Do their heroes talk about these ideas and issues in a healthy or unhealthy way? Do they agree with their heroes, and if so, why? This is your opportunity to define those abusive behaviors and compare your definition of them to your teenâs, as well as explain your values and find out why negative messages may resonate with them. Remember, like everything else in this talk, to listen to them, as it will tell you a lot about what pressures they may face or how they really feel.
Are They Dating?: Ask them how their partner is and how the relationship is going. No matter your opinion of their partner, listen to them and what they say about the relationship before inserting your perspective. Even if you donât approve of the relationship, but have some thoughts about them (âthey could be studying harder,â âI donât like their hairâ), your original intentions to talk to them about dating abuse could derail into an argument about their partner. The more you listen, the more you will learn.
What If Theyâre Not Dating?: If your child isnât dating anyone, ask about what they think of the ideal relationship. What behavior is or isnât okay? Be prepared for answers you may not want to hear, especially if it involves being okay with violence. Remember that this is about your teen, not you, so try to avoid blaming yourself or feeling guilty right away before hearing them out.
What If Their Friend Needs Help?: If they open up about a friend who is threatened, let them know their friend may feel isolated and alone. However, no matter how they feel about their friendâs partner, they shouldnât be judgmental. They need to listen to what they have to say and assure them they are there for them. Also let your teen know that they can always find someone to talk to, like a teacher, and volunteer to go with them.
Healthy relationships are based on respect, honesty and open communication. Both partners have a commitment to making the relationship work while respecting boundaries and time apart. A healthy relationship is one where a partner would never try to control the other and would not hurt the other, whether physically, emotionally or sexually.
If you see red flags in your teen, donât look the other way. Reach out and help them now.
Above all, let them know the door is open for you to listen to them if they ever want to talk. Whenever they want to talk, drop what youâre doing and pay attention. You can also refer them to one of the peer advocates at loveisrespect.org, who are available to call, chat or text 24/7.