Communication, learning danger signs key for parents

  • Published
  • By Joyce Atlee
  • Family Advocacy Outreach Manager
As a parent of a teenager, you may worry about a lot of things -- will your 16-year-old be a safe driver? How would your son react if offered drugs? Will your daughter be able to resist the temptation of underage drinking? But how often do parents ever wonder "Will my child become involved in an abusive relationship?"

Would you even know if your teen was in an abusive relationship? Based on recent studies, probably not. According to the Teen Violence Prevention Project, 81 percent of parents either believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they do not know if it is. Unfortunately, the facts point to more teen dating abuse than most people imagine.

February's Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month offers the chance to take a look at some startling statistics unearthed in a 2009 research study commissioned by Liz Claiborne, Inc and the Family Violence Prevention Fund:
· 47 percent of teens in the study had personally been victimized by controlling behaviors from a boyfriend or girlfriend
· 29 percent had been the victim of sexual abuse, physical abuse or threats of physical abuse by a boyfriend or girlfriend
· 60 percent knew someone who has been the victim of sexual abuse, physical abuse or threats of physical abuse by a boyfriend or girlfriend

Of those teens who had been in an abusive dating relationship, fewer than one-third (32 percent) had confided in a parent about their abusive relationship.

Even when teens and parents do discuss the abuse, significant numbers of teens do not take their parents' advice. Alarmingly, 78 percent of teens who have experienced dating abuse report staying in relationships despite their parents' advice. Sixty-three percent decided to give their abusive partner "one more chance," while 28 percent lied to their parents, claiming they broke up, but continued the relationship in secret.

So what can parents do to protect their daughters and sons? First, learn some of the danger signs that could indicate your teen is involved with a potentially abusive person. A teen experiencing abuse may:

· Make changes in their daily rituals
· Retreat from school or activities
· Experience isolation from friends
· Make changes in clothing styles
· Wear clothing inappropriate for the weather in order to hide marks
· Have visible marks or bruises
· Spend excessive amounts of time with the person they're dating

Next, accept the need to talk about relationship abuse with your child. Raise the issue among your friends and see how they may have handled this issue and share information and tips. Then, schedule some uninterrupted time alone with your teen to talk. You can begin in a general way, asking if she/he knows anyone who might have ever been involved with someone who abuses them. Keep the conversation focused and non-judgmental. Direct the discussion to your teen and his/her life. Let your child know you will be there for her/him, no matter what.

If your teen is more comfortable online than talking face to face, sit down and check out some websites together. One website -- www.thatsnotcool.com -- uses fun videos, games and callout cards to help teens recognize abusive digital behavior (using texting, emails, social media, etc.). Another -- http://blog.loveisrespect.org/ -- has quizzes to help teens assess their relationship.

Finally, if you suspect your teen may be in an abusive relationship, but they just won't talk about it with you, try leaving the number for the Love is Respect.org National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline -- 1-866-331-9474 -- lying around your teen's room in a prominent place. Parents can also call the same number and get advice from a trained peer advocate from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.

For more information, call the Family Advocacy office at 734-4390 or the Family Advocacy Hotline at 415-0599.