Parents often think in terms of giving their teenagers “the talk,” about sex or an intimate relationship, says Colleen Armstrong, education program director of Reach Beyond Domestic Violence, but really, there should be “a series of conversations” that start early and continue through their teens.
She encourages parents to honor their child’s experiences. If they are dismissive about the seemingly innocent seventh-grade relationship, their child might not confide in them in later years when things get more serious.
Malcolm Astley, father of Lauren Astley, the Wayland teen who was murdered by her former boyfriend, says that parents need to have an understanding that “control issues” won’t be visible at first, but will gradually accumulate during the course of the relationship. “Parents have to keep assessing as the relationship goes on,” he says.
Signs of abuse in a teenager’s romantic relationship may be subtle, but experts say there are a number of red flags:
- A sudden shift away from friends
- Pressure to spend time only with a romantic partner
- Nonstop texting with a romantic partner and pressure to respond to his or her texts immediately
- Demands that passwords be shared
- Feelings of guilt or taking blame for conflicts and disagreements
- Repeated breakups and getting back together
- Changes in appearance
- Falling grades or loss of interest in activities
- A cycle of a loving period, followed by tension building, conflict, and apologizing
Several websites offer more information on teen dating abuse and violence, how to spot it, and what to do:
SOURCES: Colleen Armstrong, education program director, Reach Beyond Domestic Violence; Casey Corcoran, program director, Futures Without Violence; and Judith Siegel, director of mental health services, Boston Children’s Hospital Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine