Relationship abuse may seem like something that only happens to adults. Yet millions of teens in the United States experience dating violence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 26% of women and 15% of men who were victims of intimate partner violence first experienced this abuse before the age of 18.
There are certain steps that parents can take to reduce the risk that their kids will be in an abusive relationship, including:
Normalizing conversations about relationships and sex;
Modeling healthy relationships;
Encouraging your child to have relationships with trusted adults, who they can go to for help; and
Recognizing the importance of friends for your child.
If you suspect that your teen is in an abusive relationship, it can be hard to know what to do. Below, we list the warning signs for teen dating violence — and some steps that you can take if you think that your child is in danger.
Red Flags for Teen Dating Violence
Unhealthy or otherwise abusive relationships can take many forms. While abusive relationships may include physical harm, domestic violence can encompass may different types of abuse — including the types of things that don’t leave a physical mark. Watch for certain behaviors that may indicate that your teen is experiencing dating violence, such as:
Displaying sudden changes in appearance, diet, or sleeping habits;
Dropping out of school activities or failing classes;
Suddenly changing moods or personality;
Avoiding friends and family;
Becoming secretive or withdrawn;
Apologizing and/or making excuses for their partner;
Constantly checking cell phone or email;
Responding immediately when contacted by dating partner;
Getting upset when unable to respond; and/or
Showing up with unexplained bruises, scratches, or marks.
If you notice any of these signs — or other possible red flags — then you can take certain steps to help them.
What to Do If You Suspect that Your Teen Is in an Abusive Relationship
If you know or suspect that your teen’s relationship is abusive, the most important thing that you can do is to reach out for professional help. Blackburn Center’s hotline — 1-888-832-2272 — is not just for victims and survivors of abuse and violence. It is also a place where loved ones and others who are concerned can get help.
Our counselors can help you decide on a strategy for helping your teen. This may include advice such as making sure that they know that you are there to help, that you do not blame them, and that you will always be supportive of them. Keep your conversations focused on them, not on the person who is abusing them. Understand that you cannot end the relationship for them, and — even as a parent — you cannot “save” them from the abuse. Instead of telling them what to do, encourage your teen to examine their options. Be patient with them.
A trained counselor can involve your teen in decisions, including making a safety plan. These types of plans are critical, both during the relationship and when it ends. A counselor can also help them access resources, and work with them to heal.
At Blackburn Center, we are dedicated to helping victims and survivors of all types of abuse — including teen dating violence. Our services are available to women, children, teens and men who have experienced violence and abuse. We also offer help to loved ones and professionals who may be concerned about someone they know. If you need help, we are here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available). Calls to our hotline are free of charge, and can be anonymous.