Supporting Teens Experiencing Dating Violence
Pay Attention to the Signs
Students may have many reasons for not reaching out to adults, including their teachers, for help. These are some ways that you might be able to tell if a student is experiencing dating violence.
Change in Physical Appearance
- Stops wearing makeup, or wears a lot more
- Starts wearing baggier clothes
- Passive or withdrawn state
- Frequent bruising
- Self-harming behaviours such as cutting, hair pulling, etc.
Student’s Dating Relationship Lacks Balance
- Student is constantly checking in with texts and sending photos to prove to partner where they are
- Student makes excuses for partner’s behaviour
- Extreme jealousy is shown between student and partner
- Student is belittled by partner or called names
Student’s Behaviour Changes with Peers and in Classroom
- Loss of friendships and isolation of student
- Student is late or often misses class
- Student seems anxious that partner may show up or know where they are
- Student is unable to concentrate, is passive, compliant, or withdrawn
- Student starts doing poorly in class
- Student is involved in new disciplinary problems at school such as bullying or acting out
There may be other explanations for these changes in behaviour, but it is important to recognize that a sudden drop in performance or increased negative behaviour could be from stress or adversity your student is experiencing.
Responding to Disclosure
What Makes a Response Supportive?
Non-judgemental Listening and Approach
Listen carefully and without making value judgements. For example, don’t say, “Why did you do that?”
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.
Building Agency and Respecting Choice
Not name calling the person using violence or claiming that the violence is a cultural or religious thing.
Transparency About Limits to Confidentiality
Being discrete and not further endangering the student by intervening in front of the person using violence
Warm Referral to Appropriate Supports
Four Steps to Respond to a Youth Dating Violence Disclosure
(from Sagesse & Centre for Sexuality)
- Identify your feelings, thoughts, and reactions when speaking with the student, friend, or parent.
- 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 them know that you are glad that they came to you.
- Do not judge the person — they may be experiencing circumstances which prevent them from acting “rationally”.
- Explain the limits of your confidentiality based on legal and school board requirements. Emphasize that it is for everyone’s safety and protection.
- Ask the person 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 a person might feel.
- Inform and provide them with available resources that can help.
- Maintain confidentiality while following school/legal protocol.
How to Provide Warm Referrals
(from Sagesse & Centre for Sexuality)
Let the student know what will happen if they call the resource or seek out support.
Consider calling the support source together, or simply being there if the student wants. This could include going with the student to see the guidance counsellor or school social worker.
Try to figure out what feels most helpful for the student — what are they looking for, and what would be the most appropriate response?
Consider preparing a list of potential resources in advance so that you know the options. The role of teachers is to facilitate students in finding the professional help they need to address YDV.
Understand How to Provide Support to Groups Who Are Especially Vulnerable to Youth Dating Violence
There is no single way to respond to YDV disclosures. Individuals may have specific needs which have to be met in order to help.
- As an example, individuals who are English language learners may have difficulty seeking help for YDV, due to language barriers. Having resources available in multiple languages, or staff trained to access translation services, could be of considerable importance for individuals victimized by YDV.
Promoting an inclusive environment within the school will encourage individuals to seek help from adults working in the school.
- Teachers who promote inclusive ideals and a non-judgmental classroom environment will allow youth to feel safe going to them for help.
- Promote inclusivity inside and outside the classroom. For instance, Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) promote a feeling of acceptance for 2SLGBTQIA+ youth.