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How Do You Know Your Child Isn't Dating Someone Who is Violent?

Jun 17, 2008
As a parent you tried to figure out what has been going on lately with your teenager or twenty something year old. You tried to make conversation with them, but they seemed annoyed. You asked them if everything was okay and they either told you that everything was or they started talking about the usual: job issues, money problems, health concerns or something else. But what could that "else" be? You already heard their stories many times before, but you still have that unsettling feeling in your stomach that they just aren't telling you everything, until one day you have a fleeting thought, something they said or someone else told you or even worse they have a scar or bruise on their body. Just as you suspected it's the new boyfriend or the girlfriend who is making your son or daughter act different toward you, and everyone else.

Your beloved child may have once confided in you when he or she was in trouble, but now they don't feel comfortable telling you anything about his or her relationship for a number of reasons such as: feelings of fear and shame, their "undying" loyalty or love for their mate, personal social or religious beliefs, ignorance on what constitutes a good relationship, and/or denial that anything negative is happening.

Dating violence among adolescents is just as bad as domestic violence among adults. According to the Advocates for Youth website, "More than 20 percent of all adolescents report having experienced either psychological or physical violence from an intimate partner ..."

Dating violence is defined by the site as "...psychological or emotional violence, such as controlling behaviors or jealousy; physical violence, such as hitting or punching, and sexual violence such as nonconsensual sexual activity and rape."

Some young people, in violent relationships, have been diagnosed with a mental illness before they became involved with their new partner and in the past have had suicidal thoughts or eating disorders. Others are recovering addicts of drug or alcohol abuse and victims of sexual abuse. Some children involved in these types of relationships have unresolved feelings about their parent's separation or divorce while others are still grieving over someone's death. There are many other past situations that youth have experienced that cause them to feel as if they need to be involved in these violent relationships. You will need to think of what may have influenced your son or daughter's decision. Considering your child's history, their new mate may have entered into their life at what seemed to be the right time. He or she befriended them while they too, have been suffering with their own mental issues. An abusive mate now has the power to make the unsuspecting individual feel obligated to them, because they share something in common "they have been through the same thing;" therefore, the young adult will assume he or she "understands me" which couldn't be further from the truth. So the young woman or man will tolerate their boyfriend's or girlfriend's negative behavior toward them, followed by the ever-popular "I'm sorry" after they have repeatedly mistreated your child. Meanwhile, your son or daughter accepts the apology, feeling as if that is the right thing to do, despite their abuse. They learned this behavior ever since they were a child, "When you do something bad, you apologize," then what do parents do? They allow the injured child and the bully to go back and play together!

If your child seems to be involved with drinking, smoking, and/or fighting more than usual, chances are they are hiding from their problems. He or she may also begin or start back to thinking about committing suicide or stop taking prescribed medications. This all can be contributed to this new girlfriend or boyfriend's negative influence over them.

When your suspicions have been proved correct, the first thing parents want to do is tell their children to leave their abusive mates. I can tell you from personal experience, that is the worse thing you can do when you know that you no longer have any influence over your child. When a rebellious child hears the word "don't" in their mind, they translate it to "do." Instead, make the time to talk with your child about your own personal struggles when relating to people and how you resolved matters. Be sure not to blatantly direct your story toward their behavior or choices, otherwise it becomes a sermon; instead of a simple conversation about life. You could also share with them books, websites, Cds, and movies on dating violence. However, don't go overboard with the products, it may be taken the wrong way, so choose one or two based on what their interest might be. For instance, you may notice they enjoy listening to CDs or reading books, then get a product on dating violence in these formats.

You may also want to encourage someone whom they respect and admire to take some time with them. Your child may be more likely to discuss with their favorite relative or friend their troubles. However, don't count on it, because dating violence just like domestic violence, is not something that is easily shared. No one wants to be judged for the choices they make in life such as being called, "Stupid, crazy, dumb, or foolish." Your child may be hearing enough of that from their partner.

Other things you can do as a kind, gentle, and caring parent is to be sure you don't look like a hypocrite. Why is it that your child is running into the arms of an older man, a crazy girlfriend, or some wild, rude weirdo? Could it be because you did the same when you were younger and they heard about it while you tried to cover it up? How did you handle problems in your own relationship? What sort of things were you doing at home (saying, watching or reading) that may have influenced them at an early age? Were you or your partner overly strict parents who may not have been happy about being parents? The worse thing that parents can do when they evaluate themselves is to be in denial or become defensive. "I was never like...that didn't happen...I don't remember." Children pay attention more to what you are doing than what you are saying. For parents who still want a relationship with their children, be true to yourself and encourage them to be better individuals by not talking behind their backs to people who can't help them, screaming at your child, or punishing them for things you have yet to understand. Find out what's wrong, make a plan to address the issue in the kindest and most loving way first, set boundaries so that they aren't disrespecting you or other members of the family, and apologize for where you went wrong. This is only the beginning, but at least it is a start.
About the Author
Nicholl McGuire is a survivor of dating violence and the author of Laboring to Love an Abusive Mate at http://www.myspace.com/howtobooks
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