The Love Is Not Abuse campaign's handbook for parents
Finding the right moment to talk about abuse can seem like a daunting task. Liz Claiborne Inc.'s Love Is Not Abuse campaign asked Rosalind Wiseman, co-founder of the Empower Program, which teaches young people about youth violence prevention, for some tips on dealing with this delicate but important conversation:
Q: What's a good setting to have this conversation?
Never tell your teen you want to talk in from of other people, except perhaps your child's other parent or guardian. Take your child out to a coffee shop or for a drive, away from siblings and distractions for both of you. Avoid going to a place where either one of you may run into someone you know. You will get answers if you set up a comfortable environment and listen respectfully.

Q: What should I hope to get out of the conversation?
First, you want to have a productive conversation. This means that through the process of your conversation, you want to support your child and confirm that you are a good resource and a nonjudgmental listener. Second, you want to give your child realistic strategies for confronting the problem effectively. You will never accomplish the second goal without the first.

Q: Are there any other nuts-and-bolts tips on having the actual conversation?
Share your own experiences, especially the ones when you were your teen's age, made mistakes and learned from them. Avoid talking about what you have recently experienced, because you need to maintain boundaries—they need a parent figure now, not a friend. The hard reality is that you can't always fix things for your kids. You can only try to give them the skills and support that set the foundation for doing it themselves. 

Q: How can I tell if my teen might want to talk to me?
Anytime your teenager wants to talk to you, drop everything and pay attention. Watch for signs of your teen wanting to talk, such as if your teen hangs around where you are but doesn't necessarily say anything, or if your teen says he or she doesn't feel well but there doesn't seem to be anything physically wrong. Notice if your teen tries to get you alone, away from others—for example, if he or she volunteers to drive somewhere with you in the car. If your teen wants to talk to you but also couches it as "no big deal," don't believe it. Just by bringing it up, he or she is already telling you that it is a big deal. 

Start having the dicussion now! Ask the questions.
Make your first question a general one, rather than one related specifically to dating violence—otherwise, you might put your teen on the spot. 

Says Rosalind Wiseman: "Keep an eye on the goal of the conversation. For example, you might hear, 'Why do you care all of a sudden?' Remember, underneath the provocative tone, your child is telling you something. Beyond the problems he or she may be having with friends, your child wants you around more. Before you go any further, it is critical to acknowledge these feelings. Ask your teen: 'Why would you say something like that? I really want to know.' Then listen." 

On to question two
What's the difference between "going together" and "being committed?" How long do your teen's peers stay together? Do they make any kind of commitment to each other? Are there certain things boys want that girls don't? Are there things girls want in these relationships that boys don't want?

Your teen may have very set notions about the roles of males and females. A boy may have the mistaken impression that guys are always in control while girls are supposed to follow along. You may be happy to hear your teen thinks mutual respect is a key part of any relationship. You will only find out by asking questions.

Question three
Here's your chance to define "abusive behaviors" or "violence" and compare your definition to your teenager's.

Don't look the other way if you see red flags in your son. Reach out to help him now, when he needs your support and guidance most. 

Question four
Society repeatedly tells boys that in order to be a man, they must be powerful, strong and in control. In relationships, this control can occur as psychological or emotional abuse, threats, possessiveness and jealousy, intimidation and isolation and actual violence. All too often, this behavior is excused.

This discussion may bring up some uncomfortable disagreements or questions about what you as a parent really believe. What examples are your teen learning in your house and in your interactions? Be honest and open about your thoughts, questions and answers. 

Reasons why people stay in abusive relationships
There are many reasons teens might stay in abusive relationships:
  • In high school, status and self-esteem are often intricately linked to a teen's relationship. 
  • She may be in love and want the violence to end, but not the relationship. 
  • In an abusive relationship, a teen can feel like no one understands the abuser but her. 
  • She might fear that if you find out, you won't let the couple date any longer. 
  • She may not have healthy relationships to compare this to, and she may see abusive behavior modeled at home.
  • She might think this is just what "being in love" is like. 
  • She might fear bringing shame to the family.
  • She may worry that you will be disappointed in her. 

What makes a relationship healthy?
A healthy relationship is one in which the partners have a commitment to making the relationship work and at the same time respect each other's individuality and personal boundaries. A healthy relationship is also one in which you would not hurt the other person emotionally, physically or sexually. 

Helping a friend in an abusive relationship
Here are some ways for your teens to respond if they have friends with unexplained bruises or someone's boyfriend seems rough and uncaring: 

Talking to Teens Who Are Abused
Talking to a friend dealing with relationship violence can make an enormous difference to her. She is probably feeling very isolated and alone.

When talking to this friend, there are several key things your teen should keep in mind: Listen to what she has to say, and don't be judgmental. Let her know you are there for her whenever she needs to talk and that you are worried about her. Let her know that you won't tell anyone she doesn't want you to about her situation—and then keep your word (unless you fear for her physical safety). Be specific about why you are concerned. Let her know about behavior you have seen and how it made you feel. Find someone knowledgeable about abuse that she can talk to, and volunteer to go with her.
Talking to Teens Who Abuse
Most guys who hurt their girlfriends are in denial about their actions and don't consider themselves "abusers." But reaching out and talking to a friend who is being violent in his relationship is truly an act of friendship, though it may seem like the hardest thing to do. When talking to a friend who is being abusive, here are some tips your teen can keep in mind:

Be specific about what you saw and let your friend know you won't stand by and let the behavior continue. Make sure he realizes that his actions have consequences and he could get into serious trouble—from getting expelled from school to going to jail. Urge him to get help from a counselor, coach or any trusted adult, and offer to go with him if he wants support. Let him know that you care about him and that you know he has it in him to change.
Question nine: Dating and the media
This is where your values come in. Listen to your child's music and talk about the messages you hear. What posters hang on your teen's walls? Are they heroes whose values you agree with? If not, talk to your teen and find out why negative messages are resonating with him or her. Explain your views, and listen to what your child has to say. It may tell you a lot about the pressures and social dynamics your teen is facing every day. 

Question nine
If your teen is not dating someone, ask "When you think about going out with someone, what are some behaviors that would be okay, and what are some that you would have a problem with?"

Be prepared for the possibility that there is indeed violence in your son's or daughter's relationship. How will you respond? You may feel guilty, blaming yourself for not seeing the problem sooner. Before doing anything else, stop, take a breath and remember this is really about your teen.

Start by letting your daughter know that you love her. Thank her for trusting you, and tell her she can always talk to you about it. Ending any relationship takes time, and it can be even harder when abuse is involved. While it may feel frustrating and scary, it is not a good idea to forbid your daughter from seeing her boyfriend. This won't make her safe—it will just make her stop confiding in you about the problem. Ask her, "What can we do to help you?" She might not have the answer, but she needs to feel in control. Find a counselor who specializes in teen dating violence and continue to support her by being loving, open and nonjudgmental. Contact a domestic violence agericy or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE) for advice on how to handle your daughter's particular situation.

If your son confides in you that he has become violent in his relationship, you need to support him as well. Let him know that you love him and that you don't think he is a terrible person. Nevertheless, be firm in letting him know that his behavior has to change. Offer to help him by locating community resources that can provide counseling. Look honestly at your own actions and the behaviors you have modeled in your home, and take responsibility if you have instilled in your son ideas that may have influenced his abusive behavior. Let him know that he can come and talk to you about this anytime without fear of punishment.

How can you help a teen who is being abused
Where does your teen look for help? It could be a relative, friend of the family, clergy member, teacher, school counselor, coach or even the police. A local domestic violence program or the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline (866-331-9474) can tell you if there is a program or support group in your community.

Remember, communication is an ongoing part of your relationship with your child. Revisit these questions over time, and keep checking in with your teenager. Knowing that you are there for them, to listen, talk to, support and accept them as they navigate the challenging waters of adolescence, can put them way ahead of the game in forming healthy, respectful, nonviolent relationships. We hope the questions in this handbook will serve as a guide to begin these important conversations. With a little time, energy, compassion and engaged listening, you can make the most of your role in the life of your son or daughter.
© Liz Claiborne Inc.'s Love Is Not Abuse campaign,


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