Would you know if your teenager was involved in an abusive relationship? If you are like many parents, there is a good chance you wouldn’t recognize the signs lurking under the normal anxiety, angst, and moodiness that seems to afflict every teenager. When we think about the signs of domestic violence, the picture that likely comes to mind involves a woman with signs of physical abuse too afraid to leave and too afraid to stay. While this is the a true picture of what some people’s experiences with domestic violence look like, it encompasses only a fraction of what domestic violence and partner abuse looks like and how it feels.
One thing it leaves out is that relationship violence doesn’t just happen to adults. Another thing it skips over entirely is that it doesn’t need to be physical. These are the two things that can cause parents to miss the signs that their teenager is dealing with some kind of partner abuse – we aren’t looking for it, and even if we were, we don’t know what we need to see.
As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we want to encourage every parent to learn more about relationship violence and partner abuse, especially how to spot the signs in their teenagers.
1. Know Where to Look
One reason parents are often unaware that their teenager is dealing with partnership abuse is that we aren’t looking in the right place. When we were teenagers, we did what we could to spend as much time out of the house and away from our parents as possible. This meant that relationship violence and partnership abuse, when it happened, was happening real-time, in the real-world. It also meant that there was a reprieve and a safe place away from the abuser at home. Today’s teens live in a complicated intertwining dual world where they exist both physically and virtually. They are connected to each other in a variety of ways at all times. This means that partner abuse doesn’t require a physical presence. If your teen is in trouble, the signs will be there but you may need to delve deeper into their whole world to see them.
2. Know It Can Happen to You
Another reason parents miss the signs is that they don’t want to see them. The thought of anyone hurting our child is too scary to contemplate so we bury our head in the sand, believing that it can’t happen to them. But according to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 1 in 10 teens report experiencing some kind of physical abuse from their boyfriend or girlfriend every year. Adding the other kinds of abuse means that 25% of our teens may be dealing with some kind of dating violence.
3. Know the Signs
In order to help, parents need to know the warning signs of relationship violence. As with adults, many teens suffer in silence, never reporting the abuse which means parents have to be alert for these common signs:
- Rapid drops in grades
- Changes in mood or personality
- Struggling to make decisions
- Hesitant to offer their opinion, even when asked
- Signs of physical abuse
- Negative attitude and talk towards themselves
If your child is being abused, contact the police department.