Before you start the conversation, here are some tips for preparing to talk with your teen about teen dating violence.
Don’t Go on the Offensive
When it comes to talking about your teen’s boy/girlfriend, don’t attack the abuser with words. This may put your teen on the defensive, since there’s something they liked about that person to begin with. Don’t give ultimatums or insist that they to break up with him/ her, either. These behaviors will only push your teen closer to the abusive partner and further away from you. She may feel that she has to “rescue” him, and that you just don’t understand him.
Listen and Believe
Listen openly and without judgment of your teen. If they open up to you, they may include details of things they had lied about. Let your teen know that the abuse is not their fault, no one deserves to be treated like this. Keep the lines of communication open by letting them know you are there for them, whatever they decide about the relationship.
Teach Love as a Behavior
Start talking to your teen about love as a behavior, rather than a feeling. You can point out behaviors that you see on the abuser’s part: name-calling, telling lies, cheating. Ask if your teen considers those behaviors as loving and caring. Doing so opens up her mind, helping her to make good decisions. Helping them focus on what they want can bring some perspective as to what they are now getting
Assess the Danger
Has the abuser every threatened to hurt/kill your teen? Themselves? Others? Have they hurt animals/pets? Do they have access to weapons? All these things indicate a more lethal situation. It may be important to work with your local crisis center to do a safety plan with your teen, especially since they may attend the same school as their partner. Also, never ask about abuse in front of the abuser…this is not safe and may put your teen at greater risk. Restraining orders may be an option for your teen if that’s what they decide they want.
Let them know they are not alone, and help them identify other people they can talk to. Teens often feel most inclined to talk to peers about abuse. Give information to your teen about your local crisis center, emphasizing that they are there to listen and support…not to preach and tell the teen what to do. It’s best to help your teen rebuild their social support network
Here are a few questions you can ask to get the conversation started
- How are things going?
- What are your friends’ dating relationships like?
- Have you ever seen any kind of abusive behavior between two people who are going out?
- Why do you think someone would abuse someone they were dating?
- Why might a person stay in an abusive relationship?
- What makes a relationship healthy?
- What can you do if you have a friend who is threatened or a friend who is abusive?
- What kind of messages about dating abuse and relationships do we see in the media?
- If your teen is dating someone… ask, How is your relationship going?
- Where can you go to find help if you or a friend needs it?