At the risk of slight embarrassment, I’ll share with you a personal memory. When my oldest son was five days old and freshly home from the hospital, I held him and cried my eyes out as I thought of how one day, someone would want to date him. While this was clearly not a pressing problem, I felt distraught as I considered how there was no way they would deserve him or treat him well enough.
Rest assured that even in my post-surgical, postpartum state, I knew this was irrational. It passed quickly, but like the weird dream that you wish you didn’t remember, it has stuck with me for years.
Several years later, I’m now the parent of two sons, one teenaged and one quickly approaching his teen years. Both talk about dating, and my oldest is at the age where my fears from that day are feeling more rational. And new fears are creeping in. I know that he has about a 10% chance of being abused in a relationship. One in four of his female friends are likely to experience dating violence. Sadly, I also know that some of the kids who we’ve known and cared for throughout the years will also be the ones acting abusively.
Unfortunately, these aren’t “just” statistics. Dinnertime talk already has led to uncomfortable topics of conversation. Friends who have received threatening texts when they weren’t interested in someone. The distraught friend who follows her “ex” and calls him at all hours of the night. Kids who have felt pressured by other kids into sexual behavior. Far too often, these stories of young love seem to also include behaviors that I recognize as intimidating and abusive.
So I’ve decided to go off-grid and shelter my boys until they’re thirty. Just kidding, but there have certainly been moments where that sounds attractive. While the odds of them experiencing abuse are too high as long as there’s any chance, I also know that the odds are in their favor of experiencing a respectful and equitable relationship.
No one knows a magical formula to guarantee that the kids we love won’t experience an abusive relationship. For my part, I will do what I can to monitor my kids’ friendships. I try to be sure to build in time to talk to them, each day, and really listen – even on days where I’d love nothing more than to just crawl into bed. I try to keep myself from reacting too quickly when they start to tell me the tough stuff; I really want them to trust me enough to share the things that are uncomfortable for me to hear. I make an effort to model good behavior and admit when I don’t. I try to help them to recognize when they are not treating other people well and discuss how this can impact both them and the person they treated poorly. I make sure they know what we do at Turning Point and how people they know can turn to us if needed.
Hopefully, these efforts will help. If they are unfortunate enough to be involved with a controlling and abusive person, hopefully they will recognize this as unacceptable and turn to me or another trusted adult for help.
If you have had a gut feeling that a child you know may be in an abusive relationship and would like to discuss your options, please call us. There is no perfect way to respond, but please know we’re all in this together.