As a parent, you want your children to be safe, healthy and happy. And while forming relationships and developing romantic feelings for their peers is a natural part of growing up, relationship abuse is common, and can start early. One of the best ways to be a supportive parent is to know the facts from the start.
- One in three high school students and one in five middle school students will experience some form of abuse inflicted by the person they are dating ─ whether it be physical, emotional, verbal or sexual abuse or controlling behavior.
- Individuals generally first encounter relationship abuse when they are between the ages of 11 and 24.
Help put your teen on track to have a healthy relationship with these behaviors:
- Build and maintain your child’s trust by setting healthy boundaries and honoring them, and by actively listening to them.
- Discuss with them what makes a healthy relationship.
- Help them learn to recognize what makes a relationship unhealthy or abusive.
- Teach and reinforce the importance of consent.
Build and maintain your child’s trust.
Your teen will trust you to be there whenever they need support when you:
- Respect their decisions even when you don’t agree with them.
- Support them without judgment, especially if they make a poor decision.
- Listen to their concerns, opinions and the things that matter to them.
- Guide them on how to find good solutions for their life challenges.
Discuss with your teen what makes a healthy relationship.
To build a healthy relationship, both partners should:
- Be respectful
- Trust the other
- Be honest
- Enjoy personal time with and away from the other (both partners maintain some of their independence)
- Have equal say in financial decisions
- Make choices in the relationship (not one-sided)
- Practice consent
Chat about relationships you are both aware of and what healthy qualities you see in those relationships, based on actions you’ve observed.
Help them learn to recognize what makes a relationship unhealthy or abusive.
Let your teen know that many times, dating abuse begins with the would-be abuser testing their partner’s stated boundaries and ignoring their requests to stop. Unwanted teasing, excessive jealousy or possessiveness, and direct harassment are forms of emotional abuse and can set the stage for potential physical violence.
Despite what abusers may say, these boundary-pushing behaviors are not normal, and they are not a sign of love. Restating and enforcing personal boundaries with a partner is not disrespectful or unloving behavior.
Basic respect and mutual consent form the basis of all healthy relationships, especially with romantic partners.
Teach and reinforce the importance of consent
As a parent, one of the most important things you can do to set your child up for healthy and successful relationships is to make sure they understand consent in the context of physical and sexual boundaries. These lessons can and should start early, so that by the time your child is a teen they are familiar with the concept. It’s always a good idea to remind your teen of the basic principles of consensual and respectful behavior:
- Always ask for permission before engaging in sexual behavior, and remember that consent for previous sexual activity doesn’t automatically mean consent is given for future sexual acts.
- Everyone has the right to say “yes” or “no” each time, no matter how long they’ve been together with their partner.
- Check in with your partner and be attuned to their comfort level when interacting with them. Are they nervous or anxious in any way? Could some of your attention be interpreted as pressure?
- It is never OK to threaten or pressure someone into unwanted sexual activity. The absence of a verbal “no” does not mean a free-and-clear “yes.”
Keep in mind the risks of technology
You’ve probably noticed your teen is often on their phone, a computer or tablet (likely so are you!). The internet has become a permanent fixture of our daily lives, routines and social interactions, and most of us ─ including young people ─ use social media, texting and email to stay connected to our partners.
Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that technology is frequently a pathway for abuse and harassment. Make sure your teen understands that put-downs, excessive texting, calling, emailing or messaging, and threats by a partner to share private or sensitive images, are all forms of relationship abuse.
To learn more about the technology risks young people face and tips for reporting abuse, check out these resources:
- Cyber Safety Plan – PDF
- What Is Digital Abuse? – PDF
- Supporting Youth to Set Healthy Boundaries With Technology – Webinar
LGBTQ Youth and Relationship Abuse
If your teen is LGBTQ, they may be at risk for additional forms of relationship abuse, particularly if they are not yet “out” with their sexual orientation or gender identity. As a parent, the best thing you can do for your child is to be supportive and nonjudgmental, and to let them know you are there for them unconditionally.
Where to find help
Whether you’re concerned for your teen, yourself or someone else you care about regarding dating violence, help is available. If you are mistreated by your partner, don’t be ashamed. It’s not your fault, and you’re not alone. Keep yourself safe while you get help and decide what to do.
Remind teens that they can seek help from you, teachers, guidance counselors or trained peer advocates, who are available by phone at 866-331-8453 or by texting “loveis” to 22522. Teenagers can also check out That’s Not Cool for information, games and tools such as the Respect Effect app, which can help them take action to prevent teen dating violence.
Adults and teens can seek help through the National Domestic Violence Holtline at 800-799-7233 or chat online at thehotline.org. You can also contact Military OneSource online or via phone at 800-342-9647 and talk to a consultant, who can refer you to someone in your local community who can help. OCONUS/International? Check out the calling options. Contact the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, then press 1, or access online chat by texting 838255.