As a parent, it’s both frightening and frustrating to learn that your child is in an abusive relationship. Of course, you will be angry. You may not understand how this could be happening. You may wonder why your child “allows” this. You may ask how you didn’t know. It will be difficult to process the many emotions you will feel. In the meantime, you can play a pivotal role in helping your son or daughter.
Don’t blame yourself or your child. Remember that abusers are often very intelligent, manipulative and can put on a good show. They are often charming and likable.
Signs Indicating that a Child May Be In An Abusive Relationship
- Physical signs of injury or unexplained bruises or pains
- Failing grades
- Emotional outbursts, crying, anger or difficulty sleeping
- Skipping classes or school
- Changes in mood or personality
- Isolation from friends and family
- Use of drugs or alcohol
Your parental instinct is to do whatever it takes to protect your child. Sometimes what feels like the right plan of action at that moment will stop the conversation before it begins. These are steps you can take when trying to help your child:
Let them know that you are concerned and that they deserve to be treated with respect. Point out that what is happening is not normal. Be careful not to minimize what you may perceive as “youthful” behavior. Abusive relationships are harmful and can escalate, regardless of age.
Many teens fear you will be disappointed or angry, while others worry you will not believe them. It is imperative to be a good listener. Be non-accusatory when responding to them. Let them know it is not their fault and no one deserves to be abused. If your child comes to you, be understanding and remember that it took a lot of courage to talk about this. Let them know there’s no reason to feel ashamed.
Educate yourself on dating abuse to help your child identify the unhealthy behaviors in a relationship. Discuss what a healthy relationship is and have them identify what aspects make them healthy.
It’s Not The Person, It’s The Behavior
Remember that your teen may continue to have feelings for their abuser. When talking about abuse, avoid speaking poorly about the abuser. Instead, discuss the actions you do not like. Negative comments about the abuser could prevent your child from asking for help in the future.
Decide On Next Steps Together
As difficult as it sounds, the decision to end the relationship needs to come from your teen and may not come immediately. Encourage your son or daughter to talk to others as well. Safe+Sound Somerset offers free counseling (individual and group) in our Somerville and Hillsborough offices.
It’s never too late to talk to your teen about healthy relationships and dating abuse. One of the most important steps you can take to help prevent dating abuse is starting the conversation.
If you need further information on how to handle your child’s unhealthy relationship, call or text our 24-Hour Safe+Sound Domestic Abuse Hotline at 866.685.1122.