Parents’ Guide to Teen Dating Violence

According to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, approximately one in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner- a figure that far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth. Adapted from “Parents Guide to Teen Dating Violence,” Crime and Violence Prevention Center, California Attorney General’s Office. Teen dating violence is similar to and can be as lethal as adult relationship violence. It includes hitting, yelling, threatening, name calling and other forms of verbal, sexual, emotional and physical abuse. These facts make it very important for parents to be aware of relationship abuse.

How Can I Tell if My Teen is a Victim of Dating Violence?

  • Is your teen withdrawing from school activities?
  • Has your teen become secretive, ashamed or hostile to (or isolated from) parents, family or friends because of the relationship?
  • Does your teen’s partner call many times a night or show up unexpectedly to “check up”?
  • Does your teen apologize for her/his partner’s behavior?
  • Has your teen stopped hanging out with friends?

Other Warning Signs:

  • Physical bruises, signs of injury or damaged personal property. Be aware of explanations that seem out of place or changes in make-up or dress.
  • The use of alcohol or other drugs could be a teen’s response to pressure from her/his partner. It may also be an attempt to numb pain or emotions.

If you notice any of the behaviors described above in your teen, it is an indication that your teen may be experiencing dating violence.

Things to Keep in Mind When Helping Your Abused Teen

  • Make sure the timing is right. Talk about the abuse when you are sharing time together.
  • Use “I” statements when describing your feelings. Let your teen know how concerned you are about your teen’s safety, well-being and security.
  • Be sure to have specific examples to share with your teen that concern you.
  • Listen and believe in your teen. Speak with sensitivity, support and care.
  • Remember, if your teen does open up to you, it is possible that you will hear uncomfortable details. It is imperative that you are nonjudgmental by focusing on resolving the problem/behavior of the partner rather than criticizing your teen.
  • Be a comfort zone for your teen.
  • Let your teen have some control in making decisions. Your teen’s self-esteem and confidence may have been lowered by the abusive partner.
  • Be a role model for supportive, healthy relationships with your own partner.
  • Help your teen create a safety plan for when s/he is at school and out with friends.
  • Contact your local law enforcement agency or domestic violence shelter about procedures for obtaining restraining or stay-away orders.

Things Not to Say or Do

  • Do not be critical of your teen or your teen’s partner.
  • Don’t ask blaming questions such as: “Why don’t you break up with your partner?” or “What did you say to provoke your partner?”
  • Don’t pressure your teen into making quick decisions; this can affect safety.
  • Don’t talk to both teens together. The victim may feel inhibited about what s/he can say and this can also increase retaliation.
  • Don’t assume that it is currently safest for your teen to leave the relationship until a safety plan is in place. Assist your teen in assessing the situation; you can also call a hotline to ask for advice.

How Can I Tell if My Teen is an Abuser?

  • Is your teen jealous or possessive?
  • Does your teen have an explosive temper?
  • Does your teen consistently ridicule, criticize or insult his partner?
  • Does your teen blame others when he gets angry?
  • Does your teen exhibit any abusive behaviors toward you, family or friends?

For Parents of Abusive Teens

  • Recognize and confront the abusive behavior. Be sure to have specific examples.
  • Let your teen know what is not acceptable.
  • While being supportive of your teen as a person and their efforts to overcome the abusive behavior, you may have to make the difficult decision to report your teen’s violence to law enforcement. Teens are more likely to make change, so attending a batterer’s intervention program might be effective. It is in your teen’s best interest to learn accountability because it will allow them to make better choices in the future.
  • Be a role model for supportive, healthy relationships with your own partner.