Many parents never talk to their daughters about domestic violence and partner abuse. Why not?

For some, it’s because they don’t think it could happen.  But research shows that it’s irresponsible to think that any young woman is immune to partner abuse.  In fact, while statistics vary, estimates indicate that as many as half of women will be victims of domestic violence at some point.  So please don’t say, “It couldn’t happen to my girl.”

Other parents avoid the subject because they feel they simply don’t have enough knowledge to know how to address the situation.  So let’s talk about some ways you can arm your daughter against an abusive romantic relationship.

Teach her that she’s a strong, competent individual.

Build your daughter’s sense of self-worth and confidence.  You can do this in many different ways:  give her opportunities to tackle challenges, to be good at something, and to solve problems without being rescued by you too quickly.  Find ways to foster her belief in herself and her abilities, and in what she can accomplish.

When you do this, you will empower her.  Girls are still often socialized to “make nice.” They’re supposed to get along, and to avoid ruffling feathers.  Teach your daughter that she has a powerful “NO!” and that she doesn’t have to put up with anything that isn’t respectful and loving.  Focus less on convincing her not to hurt other people’s feelings, and more on helping her believe that she can always choose what’s good and healthy for herself.

Teach her how to set standards and choose a great partner.

Look, you talk to your daughter about setting goals and having standards for the kinds of friends she has, for the grades she wants to get, for the college she’ll choose.  Teach her as well that she can set the bar for what kind of partner she chooses.  Even before she begins to date, you should talk to her about setting standards for any relationship she’s involved in.  As she grows, you can even share with her a little bit about your own standards you had (or didn’t have) and where it got you.  One of the best things to teach is how to evaluate a potential partner.  Have her watch the way someone treats others, and help her understand that that’s a good indication of how she’ll be treated down the road.

Teach her to watch for red flags.

Knowledge is power.  Teach your daughter to watch for these warning signs of domestic violence:

  • Controlling behavior:  Domestic violence doesn’t usually start with physical violence.  Typically, the abuser will begin to find ways to manipulate or control a victim:  isolating her from her friends and family, controlling what she wears, stipulating where she goes and who she talks to.  This is a major red flag that indicates the potential for domestic violence.
  • Emotional abuse:  Physical violence is often just around the corner when a partner begins degrading a person, calling her names, treating her disrespectfully, and harshly criticizing her.
  • A violent temper.  Someone who easily flies off the handle and uses violence to deal with his problems can easily choose to display that same violence in a relationship.  This especially applies if he is already demonstrating violence and disrespect towards his family and friends.
  • The cycle of violence. There’s a pattern—the cycle of violence—that regularly appears in abusive relationships.  It begins with “the escalating phase” (typified by anger, arguing, blaming, controlling); then moves to “the violent phase” (where the victim is physically attacked); then to “the remorse phase” (where the abuser cries, begs for forgiveness, vows to change, etc); then starts all over once the victim takes the abuser back.  Help your daughter understand the danger in allowing herself to be treated badly the first time, so she won’t become trapped in the cycle of violence.

Teach her that she can always come to you and tell you anything.

As parents, we hope our children know this truth, but we have to tell them.  Often.  Check in with her and know the people she’s friends with.  Get to know them, along with the people she dates.  Make sure she knows that there are other adults besides you she can talk to if she needs to.  But most of all, make sure that there’s no doubt in her mind that if she needs help, you will always be there for her.