Imagine being 18-years-old and contemplating suicide because of your high school relationship. You’re about to go off to college, but can’t seem to
break away from the boyfriend who won’t stop calling and texting you 50 times a day. He won’t leave you alone, shows up at your house to drive you to school. and hangs out at your locker. What would you do – tell somebody or wait it out? This scenario is an average day for someone in a controlling, abusive relationship. These types of relationships are becoming more prevalent among young people in the U.S.
Domestic abuse and other types of bullying are a major concern among parents of teenagers. Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. At speaking events on domestic abuse, I’m hearing from more parents about their teenage children getting into controlling relationships. Those relationships can be romantic relationships or friendships. This is in part due to how social media is influencing our children and causing this behavior to proliferate among our kids.
How does a parent guard against abuse? How can we as parents help shape our kids’ value and worth? My goal and hope is to share my story and give parents the resources to prevent their kids from being a statistic.
Talk to your kids. Sitting down each night and chatting with my little ones is my favorite part of the day. My husband and I love hearing about what they’re learning, and how sweet and innocent their worlds are right now. Our hope is to create the precedent of talking to mommy and daddy about all subjects. The way in which we communicate with them will change over time; however, it will always be important for us to know who our kids hang out with and their friends’ parents. Staying connected to them regardless of the setting (social media) will help us to positively influence them, which will help safeguard them against abuse.
Work on their self-esteem. I met my ex-husband at the young age of 20. I was a confident college student with a zest for life. After we met and started dating, I noticed a change in my confidence, and I started second guessing my decisions. His goal and the goal of any controlling person, is to get the other person’s morale down and lower their self-esteem. Eventually the person starts believing what the controlling person is saying. It’s our responsibility as parents to make sure our children know their worth and value. Building a kids’ worth can be done with one-on-one time, finding their passions and pursuing them, and through words of affirmation. If your child ends up in an abusive relationship, your job as a parent is to build them up through positive affirmations.
Words of affirmation. Verbal abuse is so prevalent today, so having positive words to say over your children is important. Words of affirmation are expressing affection through spoken word, praise, or appreciation. Encouraging your kids can go a long way in building your child’s self-esteem. The following affirmations: ‘I’m grateful God gave you to me’, ‘I’m proud of you’, or our personal favorite, ‘You’re so brave!’, can really go a long way in making your kid feel affirmed. An example of how we praise our children is to say, ‘thank you for working hard’, or ‘thank you for helping mommy in the kitchen’, because we want to instill the value of hard work. Incorporate your family values into your words of affirmation. Children knowing their family values will help guard against abusive behavior and people.
Educate them on boundary setting. I wish someone had spoken to me about boundaries as a teen. When kids get to an age of understanding, that is a good time to talk with them about boundaries. Boundaries are the only way to guard against abuse and set yourself up with guardrails. Boundaries are “a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.” Boundaries reveal who we are and what we value. When we are pushed beyond that dividing line, we end up compromising ourselves and living a life devoid of fulfillment.
There are a few reasons boundaries are important. Boundaries help from a self-containment standpoint and they contain us within our rightful space, keep us from trespassing on others. They also help with self-protection by protecting us from invasion or abuse, and preventing others from trespassing on our physical and emotional territory. Self-protection is taking care of yourself and everything that is precious to you, and self-containment is demonstrating your regard for other people and the things which are important to them.
Help them find faith. This is both faith in God and in themselves. Finding faith in something is the bedrock to keeping kids out of harm’s way. It helps build the guardrails needed to keep boundaries in place and prevent abuse. It also helps give purpose to our lives. Whether it’s teaching your kids to love their neighbors or learning to love themselves, faith can help cement a promising future. Without faith, kids can end up in places they don’t belong.
All of these efforts can safeguard your children against abuse. While nothing is full-proof, taking the time to invest in these areas will pay big dividends when your children are facing those decisions. My hope is to help my kids and others understand my story of overcoming domestic abuse. It’s possible to live abuse-free when taking the time to invest in boundary-setting, self-esteem building, finding faith, and speaking words of affirmation over ourselves.