Knowing or even suspecting that your child is in an unhealthy relationship can be both frustrating and
frightening. But as a parent, you’re critical in helping your child develop healthy relationships and can
provide life-saving support if they are in an abusive relationship. Remember, dating violence occurs in
both same-sex and opposite-sex couples and any gender can be abusive.
What Do I Need to Know?
You can look for some early warning signs of abuse that can help you identify if your child is in an
abusive relationship before it is too late. Some of these signs include:
- Your child’s partner is extremely jealous or possessive.
- You notice unexplained marks or bruises.
- Your child’s partner emails or texts excessively.
- You notice that your child is depressed or anxious.
- Your child stops participating in extracurricular activities or other interests.
- Your child stops spending time with other friends and family.
- Your child’s partner abuses other people or animals.
- Your child begins to dress differently.
What Can I Do?
As a parent, your instinct is to help your child in whatever way you can. This need to help can drive you
to quickly act, but sometimes a gut reaction can stop the conversation before it begins. Here are some
tips to keep in mind when trying to help a child who is experiencing dating abuse:
Listen and give support
When talking to your teen, be supportive and non-accusatory. Let your child know that it is not their
fault and no one deserves to be abused. If they do open up, it is important to be a good listener. Your
child may feel ashamed of what is happening. Many teens fear that their parents may overreact,
blame them or be disappointed. Others worry that parents will not believe them or understand. If
they do come to you, let it be on their terms, and meet them with understanding, not judgment.
Accept what your child is telling you
Believe they are being truthful. Your child may be reluctant to share their experiences in fear of no
one believing what they say. Showing skepticism could make your teen hesitant to tell you when
things are wrong and drive them closer to their abuser. Offer your unconditional support and make
sure that they know you believe they are giving an accurate account of what is happening.
Let your teen know that you are concerned for their safety by saying things like: “You don’t deserve
to be treated like this,” “You deserve to be in a relationship where you are treated with respect,” and
“This is not your fault.” Point out that what is happening isn’t normal. Everyone deserves a safe and
Talk about the behaviors, not the person
When talking about the abuse, speak about the behaviors, not the person. For example, instead of
saying, “She is controlling” you could say, “I don’t like that she texts you to see where you are.”
Remember that there still may be love in the relationship — respect your child’s feelings. In addition,
talking badly about your child’s partner could discourage your teen from asking for your help in the