How to Help Your Child if They're in an Abusive Relationship

Dismantling the myths of romantic love is one of the first steps in preventing an abusive relationship in adolescence. Learn more.
How to Help Your Child if They're in an Abusive Relationship

Last update: 14 August, 2022

“I can’t live without him/her”, “If I have to stay home studying, you shouldn’t go out, that’s what a good girlfriend does”, “She likes to see who reacts to my Instagram stories”. What’s behind these comments or situations that arise in teenage dating? Emotional dependence, manipulation, and control.

These situations often appear under the guise of “romantic love”, but in reality, they account for an abusive relationship. Let’s see what this means and how to help your child if they’re in one.

How to identify if your child is in an abusive relationship

Sometimes, it’s not easy to realize that a young person is in an abusive relationship. However, changes in attitude can give us a clue. Here are some of the signs you might notice if this is the case with your child:

  • Changes in mood: Adolescence is marked by changes in mood, but it’s important to pay attention to their expression and the context in which they arise. In the face of an abusive relationship, there may be sadness or irritability. Also, there are often physical and bodily changes, such as difficulties in falling asleep or loss of appetite, among others.
  • Isolation: There’s a loss of interest in participating in social activities or meeting with friends.
  • Academic difficulties or inability to fulfill responsibilities: For example, the adolescent begins to forget homework or begins to do poorly on exams.
A teenage girl crying whil looking at her phone.
Isolation and mood swings can be signs that your child’s in an abusive relationship.

How to help your child if they are in an abusive relationship

Abuse can be physical, verbal, psychological, or come in a variety of forms. In order to help your child in an abusive relationship, it’s very important that you allow for dialogue and avoid confrontation. It’s crucial that you can gain their trust so that they can tell you what’s happening to them.

Here are some tips to help you help them resolve the situation.

Point out the behaviors, not the person

If you criticize the person who your child is dating, they’ll take it personally. Instead, you can invite them to reflect and ask them the following question: What would you say to a friend if they told you the same thing you just told me? This is a way to distance yourselves from the event and evaluate the behavior rather than the person. In the same way, it’s best to point out behaviors that are harmful, so that your teen also learns about healthier relational patterns.

Reflect on emotions

You can invite your child to think about how they feel when their partner behaves in such a way. In this way, you help them integrate emotions with facts.

Offer a good example

It’s essential that, at home, there’s a climate of respect and that adults are the reference models regarding bonds. Interventions must be polite and assertive.

In addition, we must know that children and adolescents are like sponges that absorb much of what they see at home and, from that, they learn to manage in other areas.

A mother talking to her distressed daughter.
Dialogue is essential to helping your teenager. You’ll have to gain their trust so that they can open up and tell you what’s happening to them.

Engage in a lot of dialogue

Adolescence can be a time of great uncertainty. The physical and psychological changes, as well as the importance and pressure exerted by their peers, can be a challenge for young people. That’s why it’s important to connect with them, participate in their lives, and learn about their interests and friendships.

In this way, try to create a bond of trust and security with your child that leaves the door open for them to ask questions and count on you when they need you.

A good entry point can be to share how you felt when you were their age. Another option is to ask them what they think about a certain scene in a movie or the relationship between characters in a certain series. This way, you can learn more about their ideas and help them reflect.

Avoid prohibitions

If you tell your child they’re not allowed to see a certain person, they’re likely to become even more interested in doing so. They may even start to lie and run away in order to see their partner.

We must teach our children about respect and self-care, encourage them to develop their own criteria, and explain to them what we base our advice or suggestions on.

Don’t idealize romantic love

Finally, in order to establish positive, healthy, and equitable relationships, working on promotion and prevention is key. Therefore, it’s important to address broader concepts, such as love, respect, sexuality, and consent, among others.

In turn, the myths of romantic love, many of which have sexist bases, must be dismantled. For example, those that justify pathological jealousy under the excuse of “interest” and “concern”, when in fact they disguise control. Also, tests of love or the idea that if your partner fights with you or humiliates you, they do it because they love you and want to get your attention.

It’s very important to create a climate of dialogue and trust with children, as, in adolescence, abuse is usually verbal and psychological. However, it’s a base on which all types of violence grow.

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  • Valenzuela-Varela, A., & Vega-López, M. G. (2018). Violencia en el noviazgo en adolescentes. Un problema de salud pública. Salud Jalisco2(3), 164-168.
  • Ruiz, P. T., & Velázquez, E. M. (2002). Relaciones violentas en el noviazgo: un estudio exploratorio. Psicología Conductual10(2), 389-408.