For Parents

For Parents

Parents whose teens are in abusive relationships or who fear their teens may be getting into an abusive relationship:

It is very scary to know that your teen is in an abusive relationship, and you obviously care about him or her very much if you are trying to access this information.

There are some excellent resources for parents here

Parents who are in abusive relationships who want to support their teens:

Being in an abusive relationship is scary enough without having to also worry about your children. While you are obviously concerned about your children’s well-being, please remember that it is not your fault that your teens are in this situation.

Teens whose parents are in abusive relationships are in a special position. They are old enough to want to protect the non-abusive parent, but too young to feel like they have the power to do so. Here are some of the ways to communicate to your teen that you care and want to be there for them during what can be a very difficult time:

  • Tell them that this is not their fault. Remind them that your partner is making the choice to abuse, and that it is in no way related to the teen or the teen’s behavior.
  • Tell them that it is not their responsibility to stop the abuse. Encourage them to make a safety plan for when your partner gets abusive.
  • Be patient with them if they are angry with you for “not leaving”. Explain to them the realities of the situation, but if the teens themselves are one reason you need to stay in the relationship, try not to mention this to them. Despite your assurances to the contrary, they may feel that it is their fault the family must stay with the abusive parent.
  • Respect their right to not talk about it, but offer options as to who else they can talk to if they are feeling sad or upset about the situation (domestic violence advocate, school counselor, friends, teachers)**

**If your teen does tell a teacher or a counselor or anyone else who is a mandated child abuse reporter, that person may have to make a report to child welfare letting them know that there is domestic violence in the home.

Teens’ behavior is changing as their bodies and feelings are changing. Some behaviors may be due to normal hormonal balances shifting, but others may be side effects of domestic or dating violence. The following information may help you distinguish.

Behaviors that are typical of young people as they grow from ages 12-18:

  • increased independence
  • dramatic physical changes
  • mood changes
  • friends and the need for acceptance become very important
  • interest in dating and relationships grows
  • more likely to challenge your authority
  • wants more freedom, but not more responsibility
  • may not always make good decisions about friends and/or risky behaviors such as drugs
  • may be embarrassed to be seen with a parent in public
  • may seem obsessed with appearance, clothes, music, etc.

What is different about parenting a teen and what your teen still needs from you:

  • How you express your love and concern (should be less physical and less public)
  • Teens may not realize or express that parents are still needed or important in their lives
  • You have less control and cannot physically enforce limits
  • You may have to work harder to avoid losing your temper
  • The rules are fewer and focus on keeping them safe (having to do with drugs, curfew, etc.)
  • You and your teen may want to sit down together to negotiate rules and boundaries you
  • can both agree on. Aim for rules that can satisfy your desire to keep them safe but also
  • meet their need for independence. This establishes an environment of mutual respect and
  • empowers your teen to take responsibility for their choices.
  • Though they may not show it, teens still need parenting and they most certainly still need
  • your support and love. They want to know that you are listening, that you love them, and
  • that you want them to succeed.

A few activities you could do with your teen:

  • Use every opportunity you have (particularly alone, like in the car or doing the dishes) to let them know you’re listening. Talking to your teen doesn’t have to be a big production; in fact, you’ll probably meet with more success if you simply relax and follow their lead. Remember: it isn’t about “fixing” a problem but about empowering your teen to make positive decisions for herself. Try to think about how things might look from your child’s perspective.
  • Check out books from the library that might help them process their experiences (there are many books about domestic violence for teens and parents alike). This is also a good way to give your teen a chance to do some thinking on their own; which could ultimately lead to productive conversations between the two of you.
  • Join in on, or show an interest in, the things that interest them. It sounds obvious, but showing an honest and non-judgmental interest in what your teen cares about (whether itbe a certain TV show, skateboarding, or video games) can be a powerful statement, particularly if there has been a lot of disruption in your day-to-day life.
  • Schedule a standing date for just you and your teen (and keep it!). It sets up a structurethat is reliable and also lets your teen know that, even if things are hectic, it is important to you that they are guaranteed some one-on-one time with you each week.

How a teen who has experienced violence in their home may be thinking and feeling:

  • May feel responsible for younger siblings
  • May feel embarrassed by family
  • May try to intervene in violent incidents
  • May fantasize about leaving or actually leave (run away)
  • May blame you for not protecting them or their siblings
  • May adopt unhealthy coping strategies (cutting, drugs, alcohol)
  • May experience difficulty with relationships or avoid intimacy
  • May believe stereotypes of males as perpetrators and females as victims

When to seek help:

  • If your teen (12 or older) hits you or makes threats to harm you
  • If you worry for your safety or the safety of others in the company of your child.
  • If you feel that your teen may seriously injure him/herself.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. Though your teen may feel angry because of what has happened in your family, acting out violently is never acceptable behavior. If calling the police doesn’t feel like an option right now, perhaps getting into contact with an organization for survivors of domestic violence would feel right. An advocate can support you, as well as refer you to appropriate resources such as support groups and /or counseling for you and your children.

*Special Note:

If you feel that your teen may be in an abusive relationship wherein your teen is the abusive partner, there are several different actions you can take if you feel comfortable doing so. You could talk with your teen about the behaviors you have witnessed, and point out to them why those behaviors are unacceptable. You could review with your teen the information about everyone’s right to have safe, healthy relationships, and how their behavior is conflicting with their partner’s rights. You could discuss the concept of power and control with your teen. You could also seek outside help through a batterer’s intervention program or other sources. Feel free to email our teen advocate for resources in your area.