MIDWAY, Fla. (WTXL) - Family Therapist Jane Marks is back with part two of her series Teens and Toxic Relationships.
Last time, Jane spoke on how parents can recognize if their teen is in a toxic relationship. Now, we're digging into how to have the conversation.
The facts are this:
1. Young women between the ages of 16 and 24 are most at risk for dating abuse. And as the numbers stack up, one in three girls will probably be in a toxic relationship and one in four guys will be exposed to abusive relationships at some point in their lives. And so, as families, the first thing to do is be observant and look for the signs we talked about last time. Once you notice that the signs are there, begin the conversation with your teen. Be supportive of their situation, listen, listen, listen and let then open up about their situation on their terms. If you do it on your terms you may shut down the conversation so that is a critical part.
2. You can generally point out that certain behaviors seem unhealthy and not honest or helpful to your teen. Help them to understand that sometimes there are very uneven relationships. Try to stay away from real harsh terms, use words like, "this is very provocative behavior" or "this behavior seems to be detrimental" as opposed to "they are jerks".
3. Never place blame on your teens. They may feel personally responsible for their partners behavior but certainly this is not the case. Usually there is a story behind the story and that may be a way to maintain the conversation.
4. It is hard to allow your child to make the decision, but to the extent that you can, do so. The teen is already dealing with a controlling and manipulative partner, so you want to help him or her get to that point of making their own decision. Now, in the process another number is you may want to offer solutions to them. The best way to help your teen is to offer possibilities or options they have not considered. For example, visiting the local domestic violence center or behavioral health center. Talking to a school counselor who may be aware of what's going on at school, even calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline, all of these are part of problem solving.
5. If it gets to the point where they are ready to make that move, then what your want to do, finally, is create a safety plan. Particularly in dangerous situations, post break up can be brutal. You want to maintain a calm approach, you want to talk about the possibilities of this and in serious risk you want to involve the authorities and call the police.
6. Stay supportive and not pass judgement. Listen to your teen's concerns. You're going to be very unhappy about all of the drama attached around this, but you have to be very careful about also criticizing all of the participants in that your task is simply to help your child extricate from a very bad situation.
7. During conversations, try to keep your emotions in check. If your teen sees that you are upset or angry they are very likely to withdraw and so to the extent , don't judge. The worst thing you can do is judge your child or judge the relationship. If you rant and rave and make threats and berate your child for being in a situation like this your are going to cause a shut down and withdrawal.
8. Fundamental rules when trying to come out of a toxic relationship is to stop all possible contact. If you really want out, then all contact needs to be extremely managed. No Facebook, no Snapchat, no Instagram, all of these are ways for the abuser or perpetrator to contact you and try to affect your thinking about the situation.
9. Call in reinforcements if necessary in this process. Your child's friends can make a huge difference and strongly influence them and maybe you need their aid in order for your child to see the merits of getting out of a situation quickly.
10. You also need to know the reasons that teens in these toxic relationships return to their abusers. Sometimes this occurs because of loneliness, economic issues, sometimes these boyfriends or girlfriends support them financially. They feel like they can't get anybody else, they feel they don't deserve anyone better. They are dependent upon their abuser for love and support and acceptance that they have not received in other relationships.
11. For all parents it is important to communicate with your teen that you must know your value, your must feel good about who your are and how far you've grown and how you've been able to navigate what has been a very difficult situation.