Teach your teenagers the signs of an abusive relationship
Why talk to your teenagers about Dating Violence and Abusive Relationships? Their whole future can be affected, and sometimes their lives threatened by abusive relationships. Dating is supposed to be a testing ground for marriage, a time to learn about yourself and your compatibilities with others. Violent relationship distort the norm, damage self-esteem, and increase the likelihood for having an abusive marriage. Check out these statistics from loveisrespect.org:
Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.
One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
One quarter of high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse.
Approximately 70% of college students say they have been sexually coerced.
Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence — almost triple the national average.
Violent behavior typically begins between the ages of 12 and 18.
About 72% of eighth and ninth graders are “dating”.
I am lucky that I missed abusive relationships when I was in the dating game (and I’ll credit mostly luck!) I do not recall learning the signs of an abusive relationship when I was in high school or college. As I work with counseling clients now, I realize that I am not the only one who missed learning those signs as a teenager. Unfortunately many of my counseling clients have suffered through abusive relationships.
For the last three years, I was a volunteer for the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women. During my shift, I’d answer phone calls and help those callers find resources for shelter, medical care, or counseling in their area. Oftentimes I was simply a listening ear as they described their pain, confusion, and fear. Over the years I often heard:
“What did I do so wrong to deserve this treatment?”
“I feel like I’m going crazy.”
“He (or she) wasn’t always like this. What happened to the person I fell in love with?”
“I’m just so afraid, and I have no one to turn to.”
Abusive relationships usually don’t start out “abusively.” The signs I’ll describe below can even be seen in a positive light at first, such as a girl feeling special because her boyfriend texts all the time to check up on her safety. The danger is when other abusive traits exist, and the frequency increases.
Yet, it can be hard to help someone see that their relationship is dangerous. Many people disagree that they are dating an abuser, especially if there is not active physical abuse. My own little brother was almost engaged to an emotionally abusive girl, and he fell away from our family for a time. He didn’t want to talk to us about her anymore because we were pleading with him to recognize her manipulations. Luckily, he caught on and ended the relationship, but not after much pain and sorrow for everyone in our family.
So parents, please teach your children the warning signs for abusive relationships. Abuse can be physical, verbal, or emotional. Verbal and emotional abuse often go unnoticed, but they are just as destructive over time. Remember that both men and women can be abusers, and both men and women can be victims. Talk to your sons as well about these destructive patterns.
Here are some signs to discuss with your kids:
Humiliating or embarrassing you.
-Does he frequently call you “silly” or “stupid” or make fun of your weaknesses?
-Does she insult you or call you names?
-Does she act like everything you do is wrong? Does she insist that she is the only capable one in the relationship?
Refusing to communicate.
-Does he slam the door and leave whenever he’s unhappy?
-Does she refuse to talk to you unless you cave to her demands?
Provocative behavior with opposite sex.
Use of sarcasm and unpleasant tone of voice.
-Does she talk to you in a way that angers your parents?
-Does he flip out and start a fight whenever you talk to other boys?
-Does she threaten to throw your phone in the toilet if you have other girls’ numbers in your phone?
Mean jokes or constantly making fun of you.
Saying “I love you but…”
–Does he blame you for his unhappiness?
Saying things like “If you don’t _____, I will_____.”
-Does he make demands that threaten your safety? Do her demands reduce your freedoms?
Domination and control.
-Does he tell you what to wear? Does he control where you work?
Withdrawal of affection.
-Does she refuse to hold hands or kiss until she gets her way?
Making everything your fault.
Isolating you from friends and family.
-Does he say that he is more important than your friends?
Using money to control.
Constant calling or texting when you are not with him/her.
Threatening to commit suicide if you leave.
-Does she threaten to cut herself if you don’t give in to her demands?
If you see these signs in your child’s relationship, you must step in and start a conversation with your child. If something about their boyfriend/girlfriend irks you, don’t hold those feelings secret. Tell to your kiddo! Talk to your child in a calm voice, in a comfortable place, and where there is no rush to discuss the situation – not in front of the dating partner during a yelling match.
Allow your child time to think about your statements, and then listen to their rationale for the relationship. Listen effectively, and then continue to share examples of your concern if necessary. Emphasize that healthy relationships are maintained on principles of kindness, service, trust, positive affection, and freedom.
It is less effective to demand your child end the relationship right away, because your child will probably react angrily and defensively in favor of their partner. Instead, be that calm, comforting, concerned parent that desires to keep the flow of communication open. But continue to voice your concerns about their partner’s tone of voice, manipulative actions, verbal insults, etc.
Here is more helpful information about understanding an abusers’ tactics:
Despite what many people believe, domestic violence and abuse is not due to the abuser’s loss of control over his or her behavior. In fact, abusive behavior and violence is a deliberate choice made by the abuser in order to control you.
Abusers use a variety of tactics to manipulate you and assert their power.
- Dominance – Abusive individuals need to feel in charge of the relationship. They will make decisions for you and the family, tell you what to do, and expect you to obey without question. Your abuser may treat you like a servant, child, or even as his or her possession.
- Humiliation – An abuser will do everything he or she can to make you feel bad about yourself or defective in some way. After all, if you believe you’re worthless and that no one else will want you, you’re less likely to leave. Insults, name-calling, shaming, and public put-downs are all weapons of abuse designed to erode your self-esteem and make you feel powerless.
- Isolation – In order to increase your dependence on him or her, an abusive partner will cut you off from the outside world. He or she may keep you from seeing family or friends, or even prevent you from going to work or school. You may have to ask permission to do anything, go anywhere, or see anyone.
- Threats – Abusers commonly use threats to keep their partners from leaving or to scare them into dropping charges. Your abuser may threaten to hurt or kill you, your children, other family members, or even pets. He or she may also threaten to commit suicide, file false charges against you, or report you to child services.
- Intimidation – Your abuser may use a variety of intimidation tactics designed to scare you into submission. Such tactics include making threatening looks or gestures, smashing things in front of you, destroying property, hurting your pets, or putting weapons on display. The clear message is that if you don’t obey, there will be violent consequences.
- Denial and blame – Abusers are very good at making excuses for the inexcusable. They will blame their abusive and violent behavior on a bad childhood, a bad day, and even on the victims of their abuse. Your abusive partner may minimize the abuse or deny that it occurred. He or she will commonly shift the responsibility on to you: Somehow, his or her violent and abusive behavior is your fault.
Teach your children early to recognize the signs of abuse and manipulation. Neither friends nor dating partners should be allowed to mistreat and hurt your kids.