As a parent it is normal to have concerns about your teen’s safety. You want your children to grow up safely and build healthy relationships. The information on this page will help you to understand dating violence, and we encourage you to call A Safe Place’s 24-hour crisis line,
847-249-4450, for additional information and support.
What is a Healthy Relationship?
Studies have shown that aspects of domestic violence can appear long before marriage. As preteens enter into more complex and intimate relationships, it is critical to help them define what constitutes a healthy versus an unhealthy relationship.
A healthy relationship has open and honest communication and an even playing field on which partners share power and control over decisions and view one another as equals.
An unhealthy relationship has an imbalance in which one partner tries to exercise control and power over the other through threats, emotional abuse and physical abuse. An unhealthy relationship can include name-calling and insults, withholding of money or other resources, threats to isolate a person from friends and family, coercion, violent acts, stalking and significant physical injury.
Fear is generally a component in an unhealthy relationship—you can teach your teens that they should never be afraid of a dating partner.
How to start the Dialogue
While it’s not easy to bring up such topics as drugs, drinking, sex and ways to relate positively to peers, parents have an obligation to create the environment in which to start the conversation. Here are five steps to encourage your teens to feel comfortable and safe to talk about difficult issues:
Talk often—frequent chats are a great way of communicating, reinforcing your values and letting your teens know that you are interested in their lives.
Don’t be upset if your child is more comfortable talking with an aunt, uncle, family friend or teacher. In fact, encourage him or her to do so and keep in mind that the important thing is having someone to turn to for advice.
Talking about Relationships
It’s best to help set some guidelines and realistic expectations for your teen about things like dating before they actually begin. While a good dating relationship can serve as a model for future relationships, a bad experience can start a negative pattern of relationships.
Assess Your Own Relationship Values Before You Talk to Your Teen—How should people behave when they disagree? How should decisions be made in a relationship? Define equal partnership for yourself.
Reveal the Unspoken “Rules of Dating” - Give clear examples of what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Your teen can hear your thoughts rather than letting locker room or slumber party talk be their only source of information.
Tell the Whole Truth...Good and Bad— Support their romantic expectations of dating, but also be realistic with them about the bad things that can happen. Let them know that controlling behavior/abuse is never acceptable.
Teach Assertiveness, Not Aggressiveness—Teach them to make their feelings known by stating their opinions and desires clearly, as well as teach them listening skills and accountability for their actions.
Tallk about Handling Emotions—Teach them to calm down by counting backwards from ten to one, deep breathing, if all else fails, walking away.
Teach Problem Solving—Teach them to look at a situation, what may have caused it, ways it could have been resolved, consider the consequences and discuss their choice without blaming.
Teach Negotiation—Help them understand that compromise & taking turns are positive and that violence, threats and insults are not part of respectful negotiation.
Explain the “Danger Zone” - Help your teens understand that any incident of controlling behavior/abuse in a relationship is a predictor of very serious problems that are likely to escalate.
Keep No Secrets—Secrecy that isolates teens from friends and family is not acceptable and can be the first sign of manipulation and coercion. Teach your teens that being strong means relying on the appropriate authorities, from parents to teachers, to the police, if necessary. Teach them that if they are in a situation that they need to lie to their friends and family, that is a sign that something is wrong.
Be the Ultimate Role Model—teens learn by observing those around them, especially their parents. It is critical that you respect yourself, your partner and other people.
What are the Warning Signs?
Your teen may be in an abusive relationship if he or she:
Adapted from The Liz Claiborne Women’s Work and from loveisnotabuse.com