October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, dedicated to raising awareness about the many complexities and challenges facing victims of domestic violence across the country. One in four women will become a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. While there’s no way to protect your child from growing up to become a part of that statistic, there are ways to talk to a child about domestic violence and the potential warning signs they can look for in future partners.
What Kids Are Being Taught in School
Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski, an American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) certified sexuality educator and sexuality counselor, tells Parentology schools aren’t doing as much as she’d like when it comes to teaching students about domestic violence.
“Sadly, few schools seem to prioritize teaching about intimate partner violence or dating abuse as part of a formal curriculum,” she says. “In some communities, domestic violence services send prevention educators into health classes; this education is often spotty and not always universal.” Which adds to education challenges, since she considers recognizing the problem as an important first step in getting help.
According to Podgurski, studies show one in three adolescents in the US will become a victim of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner, making education a priority for today’s teens and tweens.
What Should Parents Do at Home
One of the most important ways parents and caregivers can teach their kids about healthy relationships is by modeling those behaviors firsthand for their children. “The best education is modeling and mentoring; children who grow up in homes were partners respect one another are more likely to incorporate that mutual respect in their own relationships as they mature.”
However, Podgurski says even parents engaged in healthy relationships still need to teach their children about what they should look out for. “Teaching red flags of unhealthy relationships, calling out incidents in the news as examples of what to avoid in a relationship, and taking time to listen to young people are a few ways parents can connect about this vital topic.”
Don’t Just Talk to Your Daughters
Healthy relationship habits need to be modeled for all children, Podgurski says, adding that gender shouldn’t determine the message. “All partners need to know foundational relationship goals like mutual respect, goal-setting, and other directed support for dreams.” Consent is gender-neutral, and something every child needs to understand. “Consent education should begin early and not be linked to sexual experiences,” she says. “Teach small children to find and use their voices.”
LGBTQ Teens are at Higher Risk
According to a 2013 study, LGBTQ teens may be at a higher risk of becoming a victim of domestic violence. Podgurski explains that 43 percent of LGBTQ youth reported physical dating violence, compared to just 29 percent of heterosexual youth, with transgender youth disclosing some of the highest rates of victimization.
Teaching Red Flags
Podgurski says that society is responsible for guiding children into respectful relationships, adding that “a climate of respect” is what is needed to fight dating violence. She lists the following red flags everyone should be aware of:
Does a partner:
- Tell you how to dress?
- Make you talk about decisions before you make them?
- Tell you what to do?
- Show jealousy?
On social media, does a partner:
- Demand your passwords?
- Read your texts and messages?
- Blow up your phone with possessive texts? (One in three teens report they’ve been in a relationship where their partner sent them between 10 and 30 texts in an hour).
- Read your Snapchat or Instagram?
In terms of emotional abuse, does a partner:
- Make you feel guilt?
- Lie or cheat, then blame you?
- Isolate you?
- Put you down or mock your intelligence or worth?
Regarding physical abuse, does a partner:
- Scare you?
- Threaten you?
- Isolate you?
- Grab, push or hit you?
- Act violently?
- Own weapons?
Sexuality can be a weapon. Notice if a partner:
- Uses sex to manipulate.
- Commonly forces sexual acts.
- Masks rape as love.
Know Your Child, Know the Signs
Parents should be aware of their teen losing interest in friends, changing their appearance, experiencing a decline in grades, becoming secretive and appearing depressed can be signs they’re a victim of intimate partner violence.
“Once educated about red flags, parents should weave this information into conversation, with purposeful dialogue where parents listen to hear,” Podgurski says. “It’s vital that parents approach this subject without judgment. Teens who think their parents will punish them for a relationship are less likely to be open about the type of relationship they’re in.”
If you or someone you know is the victim of intimate partner abuse, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
How to Talk to a Child About Domestic Violence — Sources
Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski, an American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) certified sexuality educator and sexuality counselor