When people hear the words “domestic violence,” they often think of adults. However, this highly dangerous issue affects one in three teenagers as well.
As parents, you need to be informed about domestic violence because with statistics like that, either your children or their friends will likely experience abuse in some way.
Contributed by Jennifer Smith, author of I Trusted Him
If statistics aren’t your thing, take it from a mother who lost her 16-year-old daughter to an abusive relationship. Perhaps if I had recognized the signs, my daughter would still be with me.
Educate yourself and your teen
The first thing you need to do as a parent is educate yourself — the second thing is to educate your kids. Don’t wait until you’re already dealing with a dangerous situation to learn about it. The more you know ahead of time, the easier it will be to notice red flags and take action.
A great place to start reading is Breakthecycle.org. It can also be helpful to read stories of real-life violence, which can pinpoint dangerous behaviors. The most important thing to understand is that this problem is very real and very prevalent in the lives of teenagers. Once you’re aware of that, you can make sure your teens are aware as well. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your child or her friends are immune.
As you open communication on this difficult subject, remember to always be respectful. If you respect your child, she’ll be more likely to respect and trust you. Simply asking thoughtful questions like, “How is your relationship going?” or “What are your friends’ relationships like?” are great for getting the conversation started.
Be sure to listen more than you talk, and really focus on hearing what your teen is saying, rather than immediately trying to tell her what to do. Don’t confront the abuser, and don’t give your teen ultimatums. It’s important that any decisions made are hers. Be someone who empowers her — not someone who controls her.
Learn the warning signs
There are several easy-to-spot signs of an unhealthy relationship. You and your teen should learn these signs, both for her safety and her friends’.
- Controlling behavior: This includes going through text messages on her phone, questioning her interactions with others or telling her what to wear.
- Isolating her from others: He may try to stop her from hanging out with her friends, keep her from talking to other boys or make her feel guilty about time away from him.
- Too much communication: Teens text a lot, but if the texting is constant and the content is about her schedule, when she’ll be back with him, or centered on him and his needs, then it may be a sign that he’s controlling.
- General anger and outbursts: A person with deep-seated issues with rage can, and often will, turn violent over simple things that escalate quickly.
- Change in personality: If your child or one of her friends goes from a happy, cheerful person to a scared, timid person you barely recognize, something’s wrong. If you feel as though the life is gone from her, it’s time to get involved.
Taking action when there’s a dangerous situation at hand can be extremely difficult. If you’re trying to give your teenager space to be her own person, it’s hard to know when to step in. It can also be scary for everyone if someone is involved who has already begun to act violently.
But don’t be afraid. You have the strength to intervene and save your teenager or others from physical and psychological scars. Keep in mind that you may even save a life.
Ideally, you’ll talk to your teenager before there’s a serious problem and help her avoid dangerous situations. But things can happen fast, and even if your child avoids a bad relationship, her friends may not. So what do you do if you fear for a teenager’s safety?
First, don’t hesitate to call a hotline. The people there will help you assess the situation and figure out what to do. Loveisrespect.org has wonderful information for getting teens out of abusive relationships. Teenagers can call a hotline 24/7 to talk about dating and learn about actions they can take to empower themselves.
Sometimes, the solution is as simple as ending the abusive relationship, but often, the danger remains after a breakup. Be aware of that risk, and take any precautions necessary to ensure your teen’s safety — even if that means drastic decisions like moving to a different school district. Nothing is too inconvenient when it comes to the safety of your child.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore the signs. Educate yourself, educate your teen, and help put a stop to teen domestic violence. Your actions could save lives.
About the author:
Jennifer Smith is more than the mother of murdered 16-year-old Anna Lynn Hurd. She is a crusader for anyone who has suffered at the hands of a parent or intimate partner. Having come from a childhood of abuse herself, Jennifer Smith strived to be the parent she never had growing up. Read her daughter’s story, I Trusted Him, for free.