5 Ways to Help Youth Experiencing Dating Abuse

Domestic Violence

Debbie Powell, Deputy Associate Commissioner, Family & Youth Services Bureau

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM), a national effort to raise awareness about dating abuse in teen and 20-somethings’ relationships. When CDC data shows that one in three teens in the U.S. has been the victim of physical, sexual, verbal and/or emotional abuse by a dating partner, it’s all the more crucial that caring adults know how to help.

While these situations can be difficult to navigate, there are things that adults can do to help the young people in their lives, including offering referrals to supportive services in their community.

Provide a listening ear and resist the urge to rescue them from the situation. Dating violence is about the exertion of power, control, and dominance over another. Depriving teens of their power and control is mimicking the behavior of the abuser and may not elicit the reaction or result hoped for. Never suggest that they did something to invite the abuse.

Believe them when they tell you about the abuse. Teens often don’t tell anyone about the abuse for fear of not being believed or being labeled as dramatic or it being dismissed as teenage angst. Don’t write them off. It’s a big deal that they have decided to confide in an adult; let them know this.

Be non-judgmental and supportive when having these conversations with a young person who is experiencing relationship abuse. It may be difficult to understand why they may make certain decisions, but remaining non-judgmental is the best way to show them support.

Work on a safety plan. Safety planning is a way to consider methods of keeping safe while in an abusive dating relationship, preparing to end the relationship, and after the relationship has ended. Let them take the lead in determining when and how to end the relationship and the next safest steps for them. For more information, Safety Planning for Teens is a guide to help you.

Know the resources available for teens in abusive relationships, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline and information for youth living on the streets at Teens in Need.

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