Your adolescent is exposed to partner abuse: How to talk about it
Adolescence is a period when young people are finally separating from their primary family, they are not children any more and not adults yet. Young people feel a strong urge for independence and making decisions about themselves and their lives. Consistent with developmental processes, they strongly resist advice from adults. Friendships with their peers become very important. Friends provide emotional support, advice and information, which fosters a development of self-esteem. Adolescents will more openly communicate with their peers about love, sexuality, going out, mutual interests, the most intimate thoughts and feelings. In most cases parents will not be happy with that.
The youth cannot choose nor influence some limitations and rules in the school system and at home, and in most cases they are not financially independent. If they want to “prove” their independence and maturity, they have their own choice of friends and partners, which makes them especially sensitive if adults interfere with their choices.
Adolescents need to feel that they make decisions about their own life. The choice of a partner is one way to express it, and sometimes it is the only choice they have at their age.
A youth who is in an abusive relationship has difficulty in accepting advice. They know their relationship is not good, but they cannot cut it. They react to adults’ advice with resistance and uncritical defence of their partner, which seems to be the only choice they are left. That is the reason why parents who have information that their adolescent is suffering in an abusive relationship have a difficult task.
The young person should be warned about the deficiencies of his/her choice. At the same time the adult, be it a parent, a teacher, or a mental health professional, should expect anger and rage in return.
What can a parent/teacher do to help the young person if s/he suspects the youth is in an abusive relationship?
• be ready to listen if the adolescent wants to talk
• accept the child, the student… regardless of the disapproval of his/her choice of a partner
• intervene in case there are visible signs of physical abuse, even if the youth resists it. Although it may seem that the adolescent does not want the intervention, adults, by their response (taking the youth for medical examination, reporting it), show that they care and that there is a person who will protect the adolescent
Some behaviours do not help and should be avoided:
• saying: “Didn’t I tell you that your partner was not good for you?”
• forbidding contacts with that person,
• insisting on trust and communication when the youth is not ready
• criticizing the relationship or mentioning what we have done to help, even if we suspect that the youth is in a relationship with the same person again
Written by: Nikolina Škrlec, graduate social worker