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How to talk to your child about abuse

Starting a Conversation With Your Child About Abuse

It can be scary to suspect that your teen might be in an abusive relationship. As a parent, your instinct is to help your child in whatever way you can. This need to help can drive you to quickly react, but sometimes what feels like the right plan of action could stop the conversation before it begins. Here are some tips to keep in mind when trying to help a child who is experiencing abuse.

Listen and Give Support

When talking to your teen, be supportive and non-accusatory. If they do open up, it’s important to be a good listener. Your child may feel ashamed of what’s happening in their relationship. Many teens fear that their parents may overreact, blame them or be disappointed. Others worry that parents won’t believe them or understand. If they do come to you to talk, let it be on their terms, and meet them with understanding, not judgment.

Accept What Your Child is Telling You

Believe that they are being truthful. Showing skepticism could make your teen hesitant to tell you when things are wrong and drive them closer to their abuser. Offer your unconditional support and make sure that they know that you believe that they are giving an accurate account of what is happening.

Show Concern

Let your teen know that you are concerned for their safety by saying things like: “You don’t deserve to be treated like this;” “You deserve to be in a relationship where you are treated with respect” and “This is not your fault.”

Talk About the Behaviors, Not the Person

When talking about the abuse, speak about the behaviors you don’t like, not the person. For example, instead of saying, “She is controlling” you could say, “I don’t like that she texts you to see where you are.” Remember that there still may be love in the relationship — respect your child’s feelings. Also, talking badly about your son or daughter’s partner could discourage your teen from asking for your help in the future.

Avoid Ultimatums

Resist the urge to give an ultimatum (for example, “If you don’t break up with them right away, you’re grounded/you won’t be allowed to date anyone in the future.”) You want your child to truly be ready to walk away from the relationship. If you force the decision, they may be tempted to return to their abusive partner because of unresolved feelings. Also, leaving is the most dangerous time for victims. Trust that the teen knows their situation better than you do and will leave when they’re ready.

Be Prepared

Educate yourself on dating abuse. Help your child identify the unhealthy behaviors and patterns in their relationship. Discuss what makes a relationship healthy. With your teen, identify relationships around you (within your family, friend group or community) that are healthy and discuss what makes those relationships good for both partners.

Decide on Next Steps Together

When you’re talking to your teen about a plan of action, know that the decision has to come from them. Ask what ‘next steps’ they would like to take. If they’re uncomfortable discussing this with you, help them find additional support. Suggest that they reach out to a peer advocate through loveisrespect’s phone line, online chat and text messaging service where teens can talk with peer advocates 24/7. To call, dial 1-866-331-9474, to chat, see the homepage of loveisrespect.org or text “loveis” to 22522.

Helping Friends or Family Members

Info for Friends and Family

There are many ways that you can help a friend or family member who has been raped or sexually assaulted:

  • Listen. Be there. Don’t be judgmental.
  • Be patient. Remember, it will take your friend some time to deal with the crime.
  • Encourage your friend to report the rape to law enforcement (call 911 in most areas). If your friend has questions about the criminal justice process, an Online Hotline trained volunteer or staff can help.
  • Help to empower your friend or family member. Sexual assault is a crime that takes away an individual’s power; it is important not to compound this experience by putting pressure on your friend or family member to do things that he or she is not ready to do yet.
  • Let your friend know that professional help is available through the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE, and the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline.
  • Encourage him or her to call the hotline, but realize that only your friend can make the decision to get help.
  • Realize that they won’t heal overnight.  Healing from rape is a process that can have many setbacks.  Just be patient.

It is also important to note that having a friend or family member who is assaulted can be a very upsetting experience. For this reason, it is also important that you take care of yourself. Even if your friend or family member isn’t ready to talk to a hotline volunteer or staff, you can get support for yourself. You can also get ideas about ways to help your friend or family member through the recovery process.

Are my feelings normal?

While every victim reacts in his/her own way, there are some emotions that are very common. Here are some of the emotions you may experience at some point in your recovery process. Sometimes it even takes a little while to even be able to feel.

  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Grief
  • Rage towards your rapist
  • Anger/lashing out at family/friends
  • Blaming yourself
  • Loneliness, isolation, feeling like no one understands or cares
  • Frustration with self and/or with the world
  • Exhaustion
  • Hopelessness
  • Powerlessness
  • Alertness
  • Panic
  • Depression
  • Loss of trust
  • Guilt
  • Hatred of self, world, family/friends, rapist
  • Low self-esteem
  • No longer trust own judgment
  • Numbness
  • Confusion

Other victims react very differently and have feelings such as:

  • Emotional numbness
  • Feeling fine
  • Feeling loved and supported by friends
  • Strong, healed, empowered

What may be even more confusing is that any and all of these feelings can come and go. So even once you deal with a particular feeling and think you’ve got it mastered, it may return later. This is normal — the healing process is dynamic and very personal.

Whatever you are feeling, don’t worry that it isn’t normal; there are always other people who have gone through the same things.  The best thing you can do is to keep trying.  Maybe talking with someone that knows how you are feeling will help you.