Talk to Your Daughter About Date Violence
That long awaited, fateful day is here. Your daughter has announced that she has a boyfriend, and she is “in love” with this boy. On this day, that’s all she can talk about, and her excitement seems boundless.
“You should’ve seen him, Daddy. I know he loves me too,” she goes on. “Yesterday, I was talking to another boy, and he came up to me and dragged me off. He’s jealous! He’s so jealous, he gave me this bruise when he pulled me away. Then, he gave me flowers!”
Then, the weekend arrives. She drove her mother crazy shopping for the perfect outfit for her big date. The bathroom was occupied for hours before the Saturday at 7:00 pickup time. The doorbell rings, she dashes to open it, and the first thing out of the boyfriend’s mouth when he sees her is, “You’re not ready to go? Go change so we can make it to the movie on time. Here, where’s your closet? Let me pick out what you should wear.”
With as much disbelief as your daughter is obviously feeling, you notice that this boy isn’t joking. In fact, you think you see a flash of irritation, an angry glint in the boy’s eyes and you wonder if it’s just the parent in you being over-protective of your daughter. Can a boy who is just a teenager be this much of a jerk?
A few weeks later, you notice that the “bubbly” is gone from your daughter’s voice. She spends most of her time in her room behind a closed door. She’s taken to wearing long-sleeved shirts and baggy pants to school, and she’s stopped talking for hours on the phone with all her girlfriends. When asked to go shopping with her mother, she declines and retreats to her room with her cell phone. She said she has to wait for her boyfriend to call. He’d be mad if she wasn’t home when he called.
None of it makes sense. Your red flags are flaring, but when you ask, your daughter says that “everything is great.”
What you don’t see going on at school is the nagging boyfriend constantly correcting your daughter. You don’t see her sitting by herself in the lunchroom waiting for him, or the pushes against the lockers when she isn’t where he told her to be. You don’t see his jealous rage if he happens to catch her talking to anyone else. And, you don’t see him laughing at her when she talks about her dreams for her future.
You trust your daughter; you always have. You know she is conducting herself the way you taught her. Yet, this is something new. You know in your heart that this is much more than your daughter growing up and away from you. And, you are right.
And, you are not alone. Here’s some sobering statistics, compliments of the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
- One out of three high school students were or will be involved in an abusive relationship.
- 40 percent of teenage girls 14 to 17 know something their age that has been hit by a boyfriend, with 30 to 50 percent of them experiencing the abuse themselves.
- About 20 percent of teen couples report some type of violence in their relationship.
- 38 percent of date rape victims were young girls between the ages of 14 to 17.
Look, Mom and Dad, you are shocked, you are anxious, you are angry, but first and foremost, you have to control those emotions. If your daughter is confiding in you, it’s a sign that she is knocking loudly on your door. Think of it this way: The best thing that you can do for your daughter is be comforting and supportive, not slamming the door shut by acting the way you really feel. You don’t want to scare her away.
The next thing that you can do is learn everything you can about teen dating violence. No matter how obvious it is to you that your daughter should send her boyfriend packing and fast, it is not easy to get out from under the control and power of an abusive relationship. Your daughter may even believe it’s normal for her boyfriend to be so powerful, so controlling and so demanding of her. She’s in the process of learning these things, and she may have yet to learn how to break up with her boyfriend.
Let’s face it, the role of parent and teenager includes the fact that she thinks you just might ground her for life. She may feel that she’s in such a predicament because she did something wrong, and you will punish her for it. She may think that you are going to take charge, drill her with a thousand questions and demote her to Dependent Child status forever.
Get a grip! Your daughter is not responsible for the abuse, and she needs to know that. There is a lot of work to do in rebuilding her self-esteem, and she needs to be reminded of what her strengths are. Talk about a safety plan and how she can stay safer. Again, she is not responsible for her abuse.
Liz Claiborne Inc. has produced a dating violence awareness and educational handbook in PDF format specifically targeted to parents of teens. The handbook, titled “A Parent’s Guide to Teen Dating Violence: 10 Questions to Start the Conversation,” provides parents and guardians of teens with language, conversation starters and facts to help them close the gap and open channels of communication.
The Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ACADV) is a nonprofit organization that has served both rural and urban areas of Arkansas since its inception in 1981. The membership consists of domestic violence service providers and others who demonstrate support for the philosophy, goals and objectives of the ACADV.
White County resident, freelance writer, photographer and blogger. Email her, visit her at A Bumpy Path and Out in the Back Yard for more neurotic enlightenment and visual stimulation.