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Strategies for Parents to Enhance Teen Relationship Safety

Remember: Teens are at most risk of sexual and physical violence from people they know - often dating partners or ex-­partners.

Get to know your teen's friends. They will often alert you to a dangerous situation even if your teen is reluctant to tell you.

Invite your teen's dating partner to your home. Get to know their parents. Do the "old fashioned thing" of communicating limits and curfews to both your teen and their partner, even if it embarrasses your teen.

Be clear about appropriate age differences. A thirteen-year-old dating an eighteen-year-old is not in a safe situation. It is hard to have equal power and control in relationships when one partner is much older, and sexual coercion is a likely result.

Talk about healthy relationships while your child is in elementary school, and every year thereafter. Start with discussions about friendship, and progress to talking about how you can tell whether someone is honest and has your best interests at heart.

Be mindful of your own and your family's language and attitudes. Sexual violence often begins with stereotyping or demeaning people because of gender or sexual orientation.

Discuss consent issues early and often. Make sure you have this conversation with both sons and daughters. Don't overemphasize the "you'll get caught and go to jail" aspect of ignoring consent issues; focus on being a decent human being and considering the feelings of others, with the added bonus of having a much better time in a relationship that includes clear, respectful communication. Be sure that teens know that a person who is drunk or high is incapable of giving consent, no matter what they say.

Provide your teen with information about the relationship between alcohol or drug use and sexual assault. Be sure teens know that alcohol is the number one "date rape drug," and that a partner who encourages you to drink or get high is not trustworthy.

Tell your teens that they can call you for a ride home, no questions asked, if they find themselves in an unsafe situation, no matter what the circumstances. And then follow up on your promise. Many teens conceal sexual victimization because they are afraid of getting in trouble for drinking or being someplace they are not allowed to go.

If you overhear your teen's partner speaking in a demeaning or disrespectful manner, talk to your child about verbal abuse. Ask questions, such as "How do you feel when X talks to you like that?"

Don't say harsh things about your teen's dating partner, even if they are frighteningly awful. You will virtually guarantee that your teen will leap to the partner's defense, playing out a modern Romeo and Juliet scenario. Instead, listen calmly and get support to figure out how to enhance your teen's safety.

If your teen does reveal, directly or indirectly, that they have been subjected to sexual coercion or assault, be supportive. Don't quiz your teen about details, except to determine their medical needs and current safety. Call a sexual assault center for help and advice - most of these agencies have a 24-hour crisis line. Ask about obtaining advocacy services.


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Reviewed: September 29th, 2015