It’s scary, but true. On occasion a teenager gets into a violent dating relationship. We all tell our kids that if anyone ever lays a hand on them, the relationship should instantly be over. However, teens are susceptible to the belief that someone can change.
Recently I worked with a client who consistently dealt with this very issue. After a few instances of telling me that he promised he’d be different, and then breaking that promise, she finally ended it. However, she continued to “protect” him even after things were over. She felt so ashamed that she had let things go on like that, that she still didn’t want to tell her parents he had been hurting her. She also didn’t want them to hate him.
It’s really easy to judge someone who gets into this situation. It’s easy to assume your son or daughter would never fall prey to abuse in a dating relationship. However, that’s a misunderstanding of how this situation arises.
Abuse doesn’t usually occur out of the blue. It starts with your teenager dating someone who is intensely interested in him or her. They want to spend tons and tons of time together. After a little while it becomes apparent that your teen’s boy/girlfriend gets pouty or angry when your child wants to see their friends. Before you know it, your teenager doesn’t see their friends anymore. Then you notice your teen has a lot of arguments with their significant other. The boy/girlfriend is quick to apologize, but has said some harsh things first. Most of the time your teen seems happy in the relationship, but when they argue, it’s extremely intense. That’s when the abuse starts. Both the abuser and the victim seem surprised the first time it happens. They both agree it will never, ever happen again. Things are great afterward so your teenager actually believes this, despite everything you’ve ever mentioned to them about abuse in a relationship. Besides, they’ve lost contact with all their friends, so they fall victim to the lie that they would be completely alone without this other person.
You and I both know without this other person they would re-establish their friendships, feel less anxiety, become social again, and overall feel a lot happier. It’s pretty challenging to convince your teenager of this though.
As Mom or Dad you can help your teenager stay aware that relationship violence does occur in teen dating relationships. You can stay very on top of their relationship. Strongly encourage your child to maintain their friendships as well, and do a lot of their dating in groups. Watch their moods. If they are morose sometimes it’s worth checking to see if it’s related to their dating relationship. If you see your teenager isolating from you, that is also cause for concern. Also, if you notice bruises on your teenager, this is major cause for concern. Adolescents do get bruises in sports, from running into things, etc., but consistent bruising is a huge red flag.
Being a parent is scary sometimes, and incredibly challenging. I don’t mean to give you one other thing to worry about, but I do want you to have an awareness that abusive teen dating relationships do exist.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT