This winter break is an opportunity for parents to reconnect with their teens and start a conversation about healthy and unhealthy relationships. Even if your teen isn’t dating it’s a good idea to start giving guidance on the subject. Your teen may have concerns about a friend’s relationship or be influenced by abusive behavior they’ve seen. Opening the discussion is an important first step. Your teen may not have a lot to say about what is going on in his/her relationship, but they will be listening even if they hide it well!
It may sound hokey or old fashioned, but opportunities (“teachable moments”) abound for parents to talk to teens. It only takes a moment to share a story, ask a question or mention a new item you’ve seen. Don’t get worked up on how to begin just go ahead and take the moment:
- at breakfast, lunch or dinner
- while making holiday treats
- while watching TV (particularly a news story or if dating violence is portrayed)
- while traveling or waiting in traffic
- while decorating the tree
- while taking time to relax
- while taking a walk
- at any moment that seems suitable
Teens who aren’t in a relationship need to know what makes a healthy relationship. The influences of music, movies and television often give teens a false picture of what is acceptable behavior for couples. Your teen probably knows of friends who have relationships that they are concerned about or that they’ve noticed just aren’t working well. Check out our information on Defining a Healthy Relationship. Teaching your teen about what is healthy in a relationship now can help prevent problems later.
The holiday season is stressful for everyone, but a teen in an abusive relationship may have a particularly difficult time. During the holiday break your teen’s partner has more access to him/her through texting, e-mail, social media and in person without the restrictions of school. Controlling behavior by the abuser won’t stop just because of a break from school, in fact it often escalates.
You may need to raise some issues about your teen’s relationship. Our Early Warning Signs articles give you information on what to look out for. Try not to accuse or blame your teen, very often their self-esteem has been harmed by the abuser. Your teen may feel trapped in the relationship, threatened by the abuser and afraid to leave. Ask about changes in your teen’s behavior if they are evident (worsening grades, dropping favorite activities, not spending time with former friends). Tell your teen about your concerns or observations about his/her relationship. Give your teen the DASH website information for him/her to explore on their own. Have your teen read and think about Evaluating Your Relationship.
Your teen wants your love and support even if he/she isn’t able to express it well (or at all). Be there, hold the conversation, listen to your teen and give your support. Give the gift of the DASH message and Siobhan’s story to your teen or a friend this season.