Suspect Your Child is Experiencing Teen Dating Violence? Take Action NOW

Over the past two days, I’ve written about the statistics and signs of teen dating violence. If, as a parent, any of these signs seemed too close to home and you suspect that your teen could be experiencing physical, emotional or sexual abuse at the hands of a partner, now is the time to act.

Start a dialogue with your teen. Remind her (the majority of teens suffering from teen dating violence are young women) that nobody deserves to be abused, either physically, emotionally or sexually. Explain to her that she cannot change her abuser. Young girls and abused women often cling to romantic relationships after they have become untenable in the mistaken belief that they or “their love” can change their partner for the better.

Your teen may feel grateful that a responsible adult has stepped in, but it is just as likely that she will rebel against what she sees as parental interference in her relationship. If that’s the case, it may be time to involve a counselor, school administration or a psychologist. Consider having your teen call the National Teen Dating Violence Helpline at 1-866-331-9474 (or 1-866-331-8453 TTY for the hearing impaired,) or visit LoveIsRespect.org to chat live with a counselor who is knowledgeable about teen dating violence. Whatever you do, it is important that you and your teen come up with an exit plan to extricate your child from the abusive relationship before violence escalates. Teens can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or contact local domestic violence shelter hotlines, who’s numbers are found in the phone book.

Be extremely careful when the time to end the relationship comes. Do not allow your teen and her abuser to be alone when they break up, and make sure your teen understands that she only has to explain her reasoning once time. Her abuser does not deserve to ask questions or plead for one more chance. As I wrote about in a previous blog post on stalking behaviors, people who feel that they have been wrongly rejected in a relationship, especially if they are already showing violent or abusive tendencies, may escalate to threats or violence after a breakup. Your best bet is to keep your teen separated from her abuser or potential abuser. If this is not possible because they go to the same school, alert the administration to the problem. Make sure your child does not have any classes or lunch period with her ex partner. If your child still feels threatened, enlist a friend or administrator to walk with her between classes. While the majority of teen dating violence takes place at the home of one of the partners, it is better to take precautions than be sorry. Remind your teen that if she feels threatened, she should call 911 immediately.

In a teen dating violence situation, a temporary restraining order (TRO) may be called for. If you take this step, be sure to document all of the abuser’s behavior before the TRO has been taken out. If the abuser violates the TRO, document that too, and call law enforcement immediately. The more evidence you have – notes, text messages, voicemail messages, emails – the easier it will be to prosecute if the case calls for it.

Also, do not underestimate the importance of supporting your teen emotionally after the break up. Chances are your teens abuser was an enormous part of her life while they dated. He or she may have even been your teen’s first boyfriend or girlfriend. The breakup may also affect your teen’s school and social life and her group of friends. Support your teen if she misses this person, but remind her why they broke up. As a parent, you may not be the best person for your teen to talk to about this situation, so consider again enlisting a counselor, teacher or psychologist.

While abusers often share similar characteristics, every teen dating violence relationship is different. Use common sense when intervening, and be sure to ask for the help of experts if there is any question in your mind about how to extricate your child from a bad situation safely.

Also, if you feel that your teen or someone you know is suffering from teen dating violence, feel free to past this post on to them, along with these resources:

LoveIsRespect.org

Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ACADV)

SafeYouth.Org – Dating Violence