Recognizing and Responding to Teen Dating Violence Toolkit

3.4 If Your Child is in an Abusive Relationship

thinking boy

When realizing your child is in an abusive relationship, your instinct will be to immediately take action to protect your child; however, this can lead to disastrous outcomes and could push your child closer to their abuser. You may believe that your child just needs to end the relationship, and everything will be okay. The most dangerous time for a victim of dating violence is when the victim attempts to leave, or leaves, their abuser. The abuser may try to escalate their control and power to try to get the victim to stay in the relationship. Research has shown that the risk of homicide escalates when the victim of abuse decides to leave the relationship. The danger can exist long after a breakup takes place. Those close to the victim can also be at risk of harm. If your child decides to leave the relationship, time and thought must be given as to how to do it as safely as possible.

The following strategies from Love is Respect are suggested to maintain trust and ongoing, two-way communication between you and your child:

  • Be ready to listen and give support. Thank them for coming to you to talk with you about what they are going through.
  • Reassure your child that abuse is never their fault and that they deserve to be treated with respect.
  • Avoid judgment.
  • Believe your child.
  • Show and verbalize concern for their safety.
  • Talk about behaviors, not the person. Speaking poorly of your child’s partner may push your child to defend their partner’s behavior and create a wedge between you and your child.
  • Avoid ultimatums.
  • Educate yourself about dating violence so you are prepared.
  • Decide on the next steps together.

It is important to:

  • Keep a paper trail, including text messages, photographs, and other evidence of the abuse.
  • Consider location sharing so that if your child needs immediate assistance, you know where to go or send help.
  • Never promise confidentiality.
  • Be willing to listen and allow emotional expression.
  • Reassure them that help is available.

The Texas Council on Family Violence has resources to help, including a digital teen dating violence awareness and prevention toolkit, resources for teens and young people, resources for parents and caregivers, and teen safety planning.

Safety planning

A safety plan includes actions and strategies to ensure safety while in an abusive relationship, during the plan to leave the relationship, and after the relationship ends. The safety plan can be created and updated at any time in the relationship. A safety plan can be created for various locations and situations including school, online, home, work, and other places. You can create a safety plan with your child.

Safety planning assists you and your child in thinking through and planning for the steps and actions needed to maintain their safety. For example, your child probably shares the same friend group with their abusive partner. They may go to the same school. The partner may know their social media and email passwords, have keys to the house or car, know where they work, have items your child wants back, or have inappropriate photos of your child. It may be safest to avoid asking for the items and keys to be returned and instead change the locks to the house and car. The plan may include asking the school to change your child’s schedule, so they don’t have the same classes as their partner. Dating violence is against the law in Texas. If your child is a victim of dating violence, you can apply for a legal order of protection.

In addition to impacting your child emotionally, it can impact them academically, socially, and behaviorally. It is a good idea for the school counselor and other school staff, including the school resource officer (SRO), to be aware of the abuse, especially if the partner attends the same school. Tell your child which staff members are aware of their situation so they can use them for assistance as needed.

Love is Respect has safety planning resources, including planning for safety at school, online, creating a safety plan, and creating support systems at school.

Break the Cycle has information on safety planning and a safety planning worksheet.

If your child is or has been involved in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, it is prudent they speak with a mental health provider. The mental health provider can screen for mental health concerns, evaluate risk levels, and provide treatment, if appropriate. They can also work with your child to establish healthy boundaries, learn to trust themselves again, and how to navigate new relationships so they don’t repeat the same patterns of behavior.