What to Do When Youth Dating Violence is Suspected or Disclosed
Ensure Your Child is Not Isolated
Research shows that teens who are socially isolated may experience worse effects of dating violence and may have more trouble leaving abusive relationships.
Check in on your teen to get a sense of their social lives. Take note of any drastic changes, such as if your teenager no longer talks to any friends.
Reach out to your teen if you suspect they are experiencing or perpetrating dating violence.
Pay Attention to the Signs
Questions to ask yourself:
- Did my child suddenly change how they dress, do makeup, or carry themself?
- Has my child experienced an unexplained mood shift and become passive, withdrawn, or depressed?
- Does my child have unexplained bruising, or do they engage in self-harming behaviours such as cutting or hair pulling?
- Does my child constantly check in with texts and send photos to prove what they are doing/where they are?
- Does my child make excuses for inappropriate behaviour from their partner?
- Did my child suddenly drop in academic performance, motivation, or attendance?
- Does my child’s partner insult or call them names?
- Has my child stopped talking with friends and family?
- Has my child started to “act out” after starting to date, when they weren’t before?
Learn How to Respond to a Youth Dating Violence Disclosure From Your Child
Surveys from teens demonstrate that they are afraid of their caregivers taking confrontational action or reporting the incidents against their wishes. So it’s important to be supportive.
What Makes a Response Supportive?
Take a non-judgemental approach.
Listen carefully and without making value judgements (e.g., don’t say “Why did you do that?”). Thank them for coming to talk with you and recognize the courage it took.
Blaming can be subtle and come through narratives of mutual responsibility or prevention. Even if we have a degree of control over our relationships, care must be taken to avoid dialogue that places the blame on a victimized individual.
Build agency and respect choice.
- Avoid name-calling the person using violence. It is especially important to allow your child to discuss choices and collaboratively develop plans to deal with the problem.
- Listen respectfully and be present.
- Follow their lead and their ideas.
- Help them evaluate whether their actions will bring about the desired outcome.
Be transparent about limits to confidentiality.
Tell your child that there is a limit to your ability to keep it between you — if your child is being physically harmed, if there is distribution of explicit sexual material, or if your child is otherwise in danger. As a caregiver you have a legal responsibility to keep your child safe
Be discrete and avoid interacting with the individual who is abusing your child.
Normalize the issue for your child.
Reassure your child that youth dating violence does happen and that there is support and resources available and you will be there to support them through it.
Find the appropriate supports and referrals.
Four Steps to Respond to a Youth Dating Violence Disclosure
(Sagesse & Centre for Sexuality)
- Identify feelings, thoughts, and reactions when speaking with your child, their friend, or other adults in their life (e.g., teacher).
- Evaluate if these feelings or thoughts are affecting you and/or impeding your ability to respond.
- Think about what to do in the moment to be supportive.
- Let your child know that you are glad they came to you.
- Do not judge your child — they may have many reasons for behaving in specific ways, and may be experiencing circumstances which prevent them from acting “rationally”.
- Explain the limits of your confidentiality based on your responsibilities as a caregiver and based on the law. Emphasize that it is ultimately your responsibility to keep your child safe.
- Ask your child clearly what they need.
- Either repeat or check that your understanding of the scenario is accurate.
- Be aware of how your own body language and behaviour affects how your child might feel.
- Inform and provide your child with available resources. Work together with your child to plan next steps.
- Maintain confidentiality as best as you can.
Provide Warm Referrals
(Sagesse & Centre for Sexuality)
Explain to your child what will happen if they call or seek out support. Describe the resources and what they can do.
Consider calling the support source together or being present with your child.
Try to figure out what feels most helpful for your child — What kind of help is needed? What is the best resource for that help?
Consider preparing a list of potential resources in advance so that you know the options. This will help both you and your child figure out the best choices.