Teaching Teens about Domestic Violence
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and parents should take this opportunity to talk to their teens about domestic violence. Hopefully this is an ongoing conversation, and not only done in the month of October. At a time when powerful political figures are being accused of sexual violence and predatory behavior, we should let our teens know that no matter how powerful, successful, handsome or rich a person is, violence in any form is never okay. Pretending any form of violence is acceptable sends teens the wrong message. They themselves can then become the perpetrators of violence towards their partners, friends or even strangers and the ugly cycle goes on. How can we teach our teens to recognize the signs of abuse and report and break the cycle before it leads to serious consequences?
1. Recognizing the warning signs of abuse from partners
According to the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) a study of college students revealed nearly half of them had been the victim of emotional, physical and or sexual violence by a partner. (Pediatrics, May 2010) Not only is this number staggering but how many teens even recognized they were being abused and how many parents recognized the signs of abuse in their teens. I meet young teens who are so in love with their partners and they are flattered when their partners are jealous when they spend time with other people and want to isolate them from family and friends. Teens need to recognize this is not normal. Once the isolation takes place, then unfortunately subtle forms of abuse start. It is never okay for your teen’s boyfriend or girlfriend to call them names or belittle them or insist they do what they want or else! Your teen should not be anxious when their partner is picking them up or feel obliged to be sexually active with the partner to keep them happy. Start talking to them when you suspect they are being abused, before they come home with bruises they try to hide from you. There are always warning signs before the so called big event or abuse happens. Pay attention and don’t stay silent. Teach teens to recognize the signs of abuse and remove themselves from any relationship that borders on abuse. As Maya Angelou says, “when someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them.” If your teen’s partner makes them feel inferior or belittles them, or abuses them, he or she is not going to change. Help your teen recognize the abuse and remove themselves from the situation, before it gets worse.
2. Don’t put your children in abusive situations.
Several years ago, I had a thirteen year old child bring in her sick baby. The thirteen year old mom looked tired and disinterested and I asked her how she got pregnant at such a young age. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I got raped by my uncle.” I can remember the girl’s face to this day. It shook me to the core. Parents inadvertently expose their teens and young children to family members and domestic partners who abuse them. Parents are supposed to advocate for and protect their children and yet I’ve had circumstances in which parents have failed to report an abusive situation because the perpetrator was the breadwinner or they just felt like they had no other options. In life, I believe in “tempt not thy neighbor.” Some parents unknowingly create the opportunity for sexual abuse by leaving their well-endowed teens with their domestic partners. It doesn’t matter whether the child is a male or female as much as you can do not even create the opportunity. Don’t leave children with adults you don’t know well. As the saying goes, “Trust but verify.” We hear this story time and time again and yet parents feel their boyfriends or girlfriends can be trusted with their kids. I’m not saying all domestic partners are bad. Don’t give yourself the opportunity to find out. Protect your children from abusive situations.
3. Speak up! It’s not your fault
One of the consequences of being in an abusive situation is that the victims tend to blame themselves and make excuses for their partners. Some of the common excuses I hear are “It was all my fault, I shouldn’t have said that.” I saw on TV once where a pregnant woman had been abused by her partner and she said, “He did not know I was pregnant.” That does not excuse the behavior. We have to help our teens realize it is not their fault and they must learn to speak up. Unfortunately, we also live in a society where there is a lot of victim shaming. We often hear of girls or boys who have been sexually abused by a star athlete and they are afraid to come forward because society judges them and actually protects the perpetrators. This behavior should really be stopped. How would you feel if your daughter, son or relative is the victim? Does that change your attitude and make the person more believable? Victim shaming leads to psychological problems in our youth, and low self-esteem and even some post-traumatic stress disorder. Everyone should have their day in court, both the victim and perpetrator. We should not judge and shame anyone until all the facts are known, and we should never make victims feel somehow they brought this on themselves.
4. Get the necessary help for healing
Once a person acknowledges they have been the victim of abuse then they need support for healing. This is a process which most times requires professional help. There are several agencies who help victims of domestic violence. Of course if a teen feels they are in danger, they must definitely call 911. Parents can help teens by talking to their pediatricians who can assist them with counseling or referrals to the appropriate resources for healing. One of the biggest problems we face is when the person being abused refuses to accept help and protects the abuser. Parents and friends should be very supportive and keep talking to them to help them realize the situation is inappropriate. We should never leave victims to live in isolation because then they can sink into depression and hopelessness. Keep offering help. Keep talking to them and be available to listen and comfort them and be non-judgmental. Gently explain to them this is not okay. If necessary, go with them to support groups for abuse if they are willing to go. We as a society must be willing to stand by these victims and help them with their healing.
Domestic Abuse is a serious problem which wreaks havoc on society as a whole. We should take the opportunity to educate our teen, sexual and domestic violence is never acceptable, no matter who the perpetrator is. We should never make excuses for star athletes or powerful political figures who abuse others. Protect your children. Help them recognize the signs of abuse and don’t blame the victim when someone is brave enough to come forward and report an abusive situation.
According to the NCADV (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence) in America, one woman is fatally shot by a spouse, ex-spouse or dating partner every 14 hours.
Help stop the cycle of domestic abuse!
Photo Credit: http://www.themindfulword.org/2015/invincible-domestic-violence/