As I’ve jumped back into the dating world post-divorce, I’ve reflected on how I landed here. I’ve spent time digging deep to discover who I am, what I want, and with whom I want to be. I know what my deal-breakers are and where I have wiggle room. I’m not afraid to communicate directly about my needs and be uncompromising in ensuring those needs are met.
However, like all skills we acquire as we age, I wish I’d learned these things sooner. I wish I’d had the confidence to put me first and not give in because I thought I needed SOMEONE. I wish I’d held out until I found THE ONE. But that’s the thing about it, isn’t it? When we’re young, we don’t know those things. We don’t have the experience. And until you go through a marriage, there is no way of knowing what you can live with and what you can’t. And when you’re young, it’s easier to ignore red flags and any alarms going off in your gut because hormones are raging, and society (and biology) is telling you there’s a deadline on love. So, take what you can get, right?
February is Dating Violence Awareness Month, and being back on the scene and already experiencing abusive behavior from some men even before a first date has reminded me how common dating violence is. It’s also reminded me of the toxic experiences I had as a young person and how I’ve regretted that I’d had no one close enough to me to see what was happening and support me enough to walk away from it. Unfortunately, we haven’t figured out how to change the past yet. But I can change the future. This starts with my own children. And maybe this information can help you with yours, too.
As I’ve grown older and become a parent, I’ve come to believe that parents should be more involved in their children’s relationships. I’m not talking helicoptering and answering the door with a shotgun on prom night–I’m talking about being knowledgeable and aware of the signs of dating violence and not being afraid to have those conversations with kids.
According to LoveIsRespect.org, girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, which is almost triple the national average. Anyone, regardless of gender, sex, or romantic or sexual preferences, can be a victim, but one in three girls will be victims of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from someone they’re dating. I can’t imagine my kids being in an abusive relationship. Or worse, being the abuser. So what can parents do to ensure their kids are safe?
Discussing the signs of dating violence with your child is the perfect first step. These are hard conversations. They’re uncomfortable and awkward and remind us that our babies aren’t babies anymore. If you’re a survivor of dating violence like I am, they might even be a bit triggering for you, but it’s critical to find a way to open the dialogue with your kids.
They’re never too young to start these conversations. As early as possible, conversations about consent and being a good friend can help your child. As they get older, talk with them about why they want to be in a relationship and what they want from their partner. People who have solid and affirmed beliefs about what they want from a relationship are less likely to spend time with people who don’t meet those requirements.
Next, talk about the warning signs that a relationship is not healthy. LoveIsRespect.org shares some of the behaviors that your kiddo should look out for in their relationships:
- Checking their phone, email, or social media accounts without your permission.
- Putting them down frequently, especially in front of others.
- Isolating them from friends or family (physically, financially, or emotionally).
- Extreme jealousy or insecurity.
- Explosive outbursts, temper, or mood swings.
- Any form of physical harm.
- Possessiveness or controlling behavior.
- Pressuring or forcing them into any sexual behavior.
As a parent, you should also look for signs and behaviors from your children. DomesticShelters.org identifies some of those signs as:
- Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Becoming more critical of themselves
- Becoming increasingly secretive and unwilling to share things with you
- Changing their appearance in a way that seems out of character
- No longer showing interest in friends
- Doing poorly in school
- Experiencing increased depression and anxiety
- Showing up with unexplained injuries or bruises
- Apologizing for their partner’s behavior, or minimizing it, when you question them
- Moving quickly in the relationship (talks of being in love or “soulmates,” moving in together, marriage or even wanting to start a family soon into the relationship)
- Expressing their partner has jealousy issues
- Needing to be constantly in communication with their partner
- Becoming isolated and distant from you and their friends
If you don’t know how to have those conversations, talk to a school counselor, or find a therapist you can see together.
I don’t know why people abuse other people. I do know, though, that as parents we are responsible for teaching our children how to be respectful and kind to themselves and others. It’s never too early to teach children about this.
Being a parent is hard. But we can do hard things. We got this.
If you are concerned about your child and believe they are in an abusive relationship, the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP.org) and the Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP.org) are both local resources in Johnson County that have trained professionals who can meet with you and/or your child to help you navigate these rough waters.