When Your Teen is Dating an Abuser

Published 12:15 pm Friday, March 16, 2018

Editor’s note: The following advice from a professional on how to protect your teen without driving them away is reprinted from Hyde County Hotline’s March newsletter.

If you think domestic violence is limited to adults, you’d be incorrect. In a recent survey, approximately 1.5 million U.S. high schoolers — both boys and girls — admitted to being victims of physical violence from a romantic partner within the last year. Unfortunately, research also shows that only about a third of those teens will confess the abuse to someone else.

If you’re a parent, finding out your child is a victim of dating violence can be one of the toughest scenarios imaginable. Janice Miller, director of client services at House of Ruth, an intimate partner violence center in Maryland, says her center’s 24-hour hotline gets a lot of calls from parents wondering how to respond to this. She offered up the following advice.

To parents whose teen is in a violent relationship:

Quell the knee-jerk reaction to demand they break up immediately. “You won’t be able to end the relationship just by putting your foot down. Teens are in the middle of their search for independence. Telling them the relationship is bad and that they should leave is almost certainly going to make him or her dig in their heels and stay in that relationship.”

Should a parent call the abuser’s parents? Or the police?

“If there’s a definite danger level of harm, then parents will have to evaluate whether or not those actions are going to cause more harm. Are the abuser’s parents going to support their son and be defensive, and is he going to turn around and abuse her further? And then there’s a risk she’s not going to say anything further to you, the parent. Likewise, calling the police on an abuser could save a person in one situation; in another situation, it could result in her death. This is why we don’t try to prescribe just one route. Talking to a counselor can help you navigate the right path for your specific situation.”

However, as a parent you want to protect your child.

“In some states, you can get a protective order on behalf of your teen. The best scenario is your teen coming to that conclusion that they want that. Ask your teen if he or she wants to call a support line (the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE offers free, anonymous support, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), or, they can chat online, which works well for teens who don’t like to talk.”

Best case scenario: Talk to your child before they ever start to date.

“Have conversations in the preteen years about what a healthy relationship looks like, and what a violent relationship looks like. Ask them if they know of any friends in a [violent] relationship. I think those are powerful conversations to have at the dinner table or on the way to school.”

For more help, access a free Parent’s Guide to Teen Dating Violence from BreaktheCycle.org.