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Recognizing the Signs of Dating Abuse: Help for Parents of Teenagers


As a parent, the idea that your child is in an abusive relationship may be painful or even inconceivable. In many cases, the abuse starts small and very gradually increases in frequency and severity. In other cases, the abuse begins and quickly escalates. Your support as a parent is key to helping your teenager get through this tough time. If you think your child might be in an abusive relationship, the following information may help you recognize the warning signs and get your teenager on the right track to building more healthy dating relationships.

Recognizing the warning signs of an abusive relationship

Physical violence, emotional cruelty, humiliation, threats and stalking are all considered abuse. Digital abuse, which can include excessive texting, sexting or derogatory posts on social media sites, is becoming more common among teenagers. The following warning signs can help you recognize an abusive relationship:

  • Your teenager's boyfriend or girlfriend is overly jealous or possessive.
  • You notice unexplained bruises or other marks.
  • The boyfriend or girlfriend emails or texts your teenager constantly.
  • Your teenager is frequently worried about whether their boyfriend or girlfriend will approve of what they do or what they wear.
  • Your teenager seems depressed or withdrawn.
  • Your teenager doesn't seem interested in extracurricular activities.
  • Your teenager stops spending time with other friends and family members.
  • The boyfriend or girlfriend uses social media sites to threaten or demean your teenager.
  • Your teenager begins to dress differently.
  • Your teenager often makes excuses for the boyfriend or girlfriend's behavior.

What you can do to help

If your child is in an abusive relationship, it may be hard to know where to turn to for help. These tips can be helpful:

  • Be supportive. If you need information and resources to help you help your teen, reach out for support. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE) has trained advocates available by phone anytime you need or want to talk. You may also want to contact Military OneSource (800-342-9647) and talk to a consultant who can refer you to someone who can help in your local community.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Make sure your teenager knows you are available and concerned for their safety.
  • Take your teenager seriously. It can take a lot of courage for your teenager to come to you with a problem. Let your child know you understand and will do what you can to help.
  • Help your teenager make a safety plan. This may include planning a safe way home from a party or other event the abuser might also be attending. Help your teenager come up with a verbal code to let you or their friends know when they need help without alerting the abuser.
  • Don't try to force your teenager to end the relationship. You may end up pushing them away and increasing their commitment to the abusive relationship. There may be many reasons why someone stays in an abusive relationship. Be supportive of your teenager's choices while they work out what to do, while helping to keep them safe.

Helping your teenager build healthy dating relationships

Parents play an important role in helping teenagers learn that good relationships are built on respect and trust. Use the following tips to help you talk with your teenager about healthy relationships:

  • Model good relationships. Be respectful in your relationships at home and show your teenager that communicating in a positive way helps build trust and respect.
  • Talk with your teenager about other dating relationships they see at school or on TV. Use these opportunities to talk with your teenager about what's healthy in a relationship and what's not.
  • Teach your teenager that abusive or violent behavior is never acceptable.
  • Talk with your teenager about the importance of mutual respect in a relationship.
  • Educate yourself on digital abuse. This can include excessive texting, sexting, sending threatening texts or emails and using social media sites to post insults. Talk with your teenager about using social media sites responsibly.
  • Talk with your teenager about the importance of trust and relationship boundaries. Let your teenager know their privacy is important, and they should be concerned when someone wants to share passwords for phone or email accounts.
  • Remember that relationships don't have to be physically violent to be abusive. Talk with your teenager about recognizing the warning signs of an abusive relationship. They should be concerned about anyone who is disrespectful, threatening or demeaning.

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