Falling in Love with your Family By Alison
In a Nutshell: Parental involvement can help teens recognize and protect themselves from abusive relationships.
The focus of this post it to help parents give kids the skills they need to form healthy relationships. If you are in a abusive relationship, or know someone who is, please call 1-800-799-723. No one deserves to be abused. You can find more information here.
October is National Domestic Violence Prevention Month. As I raise teenagers, I am especially concerned with the habits my kids form that will affect them forever. In the teen and young adult years, we become programmed with what to expect from others. If early experiences teach kids that control, coercion, and emotional mind-games are the norm, they are developing a set of expectations that could have disastrous results. As parents, there is so much we can do to help kids set their sights high, recognize good relationships, and put on their walking shoes when they recognize signs of an abusive personality.
1) Talk about it. Have open, frequent conversations with teens about love, sex, relationships, and abuse. They probably have already seen some abusive tendencies in people they know and would welcome an opportunity to talk about it. Be a safe harbor for them to discuss these hard issues.
2) Set their sights high. Teach kids that healthy relationships involve good communication, the freedom to interact with other people, kindness, and the right to make decisions about physical contact. Help them develop strong self-esteem that is not dependent on attention from outside sources, but is formed by developing talents, working hard, and doing good things. Teach them to dress with self-respect and to stand up for themselves. Encourage young teens to form many good friendships and avoid heavy, serious, and exclusive relationships early in life. Now is the time to learn to develop their own sense of self, without worrying about pleasing a boyfriend or girlfriend.
3) Teach them the warning signs of an abusive personality. Use the chart below and the list of abusive personality warning signs to teach kids how subtle and gradual abuse can be. Help them recognize that abuse is not only sexual assault or a beating, but manifests in many ways.
WARNING SIGNS OF AN ABUSIVE PERSONALITY: Pushes for quick involvement and total commitment, is jealous, exhibits controlling behavior, has unrealistic expectations, isolates partner from friends or family, blames others for problems and mistakes, is hypersensitive, shows cruelty to animals or children, uses force playfully, makes critical or cruel comments, has rigid sex roles, shows sudden mood swings, or makes threats of violence.
4) Intervene if necessary. If you feel a teen is in a relationship where there may be signs of control or abuse, don’t hesitate to get involved. When I was in high school, I was friends with a needy young man. I only dated him a few times, but he’d write me pages of letters telling me how he didn’t know if he’d still be alive without me, how I was the most important person in the world to him, and how I was the only one keeping him from getting into trouble. When he asked me out, I felt like I had to go, or I’d jeopardize his safety and happiness. A loving father helped me realize that I didn’t have to date someone just because he made me feel guilty and manipulated my emotions. I could continue to be friends, but I had a right to refuse a date and keep my distance. He even drove me to his house to kindly tell him “No” when he asked me to a dance. I’ll always remember his support and how he taught me about healthy relationships.
5) Parent well. Every day, our kids learn how they deserve to be treated. When parents hit, yell, demean, control, or constantly criticize, children may think it is normal to be treated that way. They are more likely to accept such behavior from a romantic partner in the future. But, when we show kids they are loved and respected, they will grow to expect such behavior from others outside their family as well. As you interact with and discipline your kids, think of the words you are using and the message you are sending. Only say things in a way you would be comfortable hearing your child’s boyfriend or girlfriend talking to them in the future.
There is no sure-fire way to protect our teens from abuse, but as we parent them in a safe and supportive way, help them aim high, and teach warning signs in an open atmosphere, we can help our kids navigate the difficult dating waters and find safe, strong, and lasting relationships.