If you’re a parent with kids in their teens or early twenties, the winter holidays may be not only a time to celebrate with family, but also a chance to meet your child’s new significant other. Having kids enter into serious relationships for the first time can be challenging for any parent, and of course, you want your kids to have healthy and happy relationships.
Every relationship is different, and a partner who exhibits occasional bad behavior may not be abusive, but many teens and young people may blame themselves for abuse or may have a hard time spotting it.
If you’re concerned about your child’s relationship, ask yourself if you’ve seen any of these warning signs of dating violence.
Does your child’s significant other:
- Check your child’s phone, email or social media often and/or without permission?
- Repeatedly demean or call your child names like “stupid,” or worse?
- Try to isolate them from family and friends, or get extremely jealous when they spend time with others?
- Check up on them with frequent calls and texts?
- Try to control their choices in friends, clothes, makeup, hairstyles, etc?
- Withhold affection as punishment or manipulation?
- Have violent outbursts?
- Threaten to hurt your child, you or your extended family in any way?
- Physically harm them now, or has in the past?
Abusers are often on good behavior around extended family and may act completely differently when they’re alone with their victims. If your child is acting differently since the relationship began — moody, sad or withdrawn — this may also be a sign that something’s not right.
What can you do if you’re worried?
- Have a conversation. The best thing you can do is talk to your child and let them know that you’re concerned. Tell them what behavior you saw, and why it worried you. Let them know that they deserve to be respected and treated well by a partner. Ask what they would like to have happen (give them control), and if there’s anything you can do to help.
- As tempting as it may be, avoid telling or demanding that they end the relationship. Abuse is about taking control away from the victim, and by telling your child what to do, you’re just continuing the cycle of their powerlessness. Instead let them know you’ll be there to support and listen to them, no matter what they do.
- Understand that they may defend their abuser. It’s common for victims to feel embarrassed or ashamed about abuse, or worry about retaliation for telling. Additionally, if your child is a teenager, they may be worried that you’ll make them break up, take away privileges or blame them. Unfortunately, you can’t “fix” this for them, but you can listen and let them know that you won’t judge or punish them, and that you just want them to be safe. Keep the lines of communication open.
- Write it down. It takes many victims of abuse several attempts to leave a relationship. If you witness abuse, or you child tells you about it, write it down and date it. Having a record can help if they decide to report the abuse, get a restraining order or take legal action.
The best way to address these concerns is to educate yourself and try to understand what your child may be going through before confronting them. You can learn more about realities of domestic violence here, and it may help you see the situation from their point of view.
If you’re still not sure what to do, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE to speak with an advocate.