Is your teen in an abusive relationship?

In addition to being Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic violence isn’t just an adult problem; teens find themselves in abusive relationships, too. Here’s how to know if you should be worried about your child.

When people find out that I’m a domestic abuse counselor, I can predict that they will react in one of two ways.  Either they will show outward signs of discomfort, i.e. shifting nervously or going out of their way to avoid the topic, or they bombard me with a number of questions.

“How are you able to do that type of work?”

“I bet it’s hard to hear the stories you hear, huh?”

While many of the questions are general in nature, some can be very specific, with others completely catching me off guard. One of those questions is,  “How do I know if my daughter or son is being abused by their significant other?”

This question is a tough one for me as a counselor, but also as a parent.  It’s not an easy task to just look at a relationship from the outside and diagnosis it as being abusive or “normal.”  And it’s definitely not easy to do this as a parent.  That being said, I’ve compiled a brief list of signs that may alert you to the possibility that your child may be in an abusive relationship.

Your child’s significant other is controlling. People mistakenly believe that control or jealousy is a sign of love. “Oh, my boyfriend would kill me if he knew that I was going out tonight” or “My girlfriend doesn’t really like me to hang out with my friends anymore.  She says they’re bad influences.”  While people hearing these statements may joke about the teen being “whipped,” the fact is that abuse is real and not a laughing matter.  This may be a warning sign that is easily missed.

Your child has inexplicable changes in mood, behavior or demeanor.  Anyone who has ever had or worked with teenagers know that they can be moody. Everything from hormonal changes to peer relationships can cause them to be unhappy little creatures. That being said, don’t mistake a cry for help for normal teen emotions.  Is there sudden onset of crying or angry outbursts since the commencement of your teen’s relationship?  Is your child, once confident and strong, now jumping at the slightest touch or raised voice?  If so, it may be time to dig deeper into what’s going on behind the scenes.

Your child places the blame on him or herself for the behavior of their significant other.  Most people in relationships have a tendency to defend their mate and for the most part, that’s okay.  However, when it comes to placing the blame on oneself for the way that the significant other is acting or treating them, that’s a red flag. Statements like, “She only ridicules me because I make stupid mistakes” or “He only yells at me because I make him angry” are tell-tale signs that your child may be in an abusive relationship.

Your child becomes withdrawn and no longer participates in activities/events that they used to enjoy.  Healthy relationships allow room for individual activities and interests. And while a teen’s interests will undoubtedly change , at least a few constants are the expectation. When a teenager decides to drop all of his or her interests due to a relationship, this could mean bad news.  If it’s because the child no longer finds interest in the activity, great! Let’s move on to something else.  Or is it because the significant other would prefer that all extra time be spent with him or her?  If so, it’s not so great and definitely something to be discussed.  As always, the key is observation and communication.

While this list is not meant to be exhaustive or all-inclusive, it does provide a starting point for recognizing abuse and starting a conversation.  It’s important to know that abuse goes beyond the physical.  Having a clear understanding that abuse can be sexual, mental, emotional or financial can mean the difference between your child being a victim or a victor.  With over 30% of teens in America admitting to being victims of some form of abuse, it’s imperative that parents stay informed.  And the number one way that parents can do that is by knowing their child.  Know the child you raised and know when something is wrong.  Just trust your gut.