3 ways to teach teens to recognize marital abuse 

How can you raise children so that they won’t enter into an abusive relationship when they’re adults?

 Abuse (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Abuse (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

As parents we’re always dealing with helping our children with their problems. But if we look a little further ahead, our education today will have an impact on our children's relationships in the future. So how can we help our children demand the best for themselves when they get married?

"My biggest nightmare is that my daughter will be in an abusive relationship," a good friend recently told me. 

We talked about the fear that we couldn’t prevent, that we as parents would stand aside and see the danger, but we couldn’t save them. That her spouse will distance her from friendships, family, isolate, financially harm, threaten and even physically hurt her.

It’s the nightmare of every parent, and the same is true for boys. 

So, what can be done to reduce the risk of our children entering into abusive relationships?

Before we get to the ways of educating children to choose healthy relationships, it’s important to clarify: If you’re the parent of someone who is in an abusive relationship, or are in one yourself, it’s highly recommended to leave an abusive relationship with help from a professional who specializes in the field. It should also be noted that how we educate our children will affect the likelihood of them growing into the adults we want and hope for.

But it’s important to understand that there is no insurance certificate here, that your teen is free to choose, and there are other influencing factors.

Here are three ways to raise children to not get into abusive relationships as adults:

1 - Sense of self worth

In order to be able to put a limit on behavior that doesn’t suit me, I need to be connected to my sense of worth. 

A person with an established sense of worth, who believes he or she is worthy and equal, will refuse to accept abusive behavior. He or she will leave anyone who is abusive. Therefore, the important role of parents is to strengthen the children's sense of worth and self-image. Strengthen their perception of themselves as people worthy of respect, happiness and joy and the right to refuse.

It’s not easy, because sometimes it conflicts with our desire to see them succeed, realize their potential or enter a profession we think is desirable. Sometimes out of really good intentions, such as to encourage them, we actually take them down. It requires a lot of awareness, asking oneself all the time how to respond in a way that will strengthen a sense of worth.

Practical tip: Try to establish habits of strengthening value.

Enter the room and smile at them and say, "I just want to see you.” Hug, stroke, give a kiss and say, "I love you, I appreciate you ... I noticed that ... it was nice that you sat with us,” etc. 

Even when there is no response from the other side, keep up a daily drip of "you’re worth as much as you are."

And at the same time, try to stop nudging. 

Stop asking, "Why are you not?" or saying sentences like, "You are always or you are never." 

2 - Modeling

Children learn from our personal example. They look at how we live, and learn how to live. It’s important to demonstrate to them that you set boundaries to handle difficult people. They look at how we react to abuse, and it's important to show them that you are not willing to be abused - not from colleagues, your manager or partner.

It’s also important to show them how to have respect for others and for themselves. 

When we respect ourselves they learn to respect themselves and to understand that it is their right to set boundaries to deal with others. This is the hardest part to implement because it requires a change in youself. It’s hard, and sometimes treatment is needed. But from my experience with patients, it is possible.

3 - Communication

It’s very important to teach children how to maintain communication and to keep in touch. Don’t disconnect. Always keep a channel open. Even in times when we are "catching fire." Put the relationship first. Send a message of, “we’re always here. We’re an address for you. Always contact us when you’re in trouble."

Of course, we want a good and open relationship, but that isn’t always possible. Even when it seems like they have become disconnected from us, and don’t intend to return to an open and warm relationship, continue to be there for them and convey a desire for connection. And if the situation is difficult, go get guidance.

The issue of abusive relationships is painful. We have no control over our children's choices. And yet, we must equip them with concepts and tools that will help them be their best selves. And it starts when they’re children.

Yael Kerem is a psychotherapist and parent counselor, specializing in adolescents and young adults, at the Adler Institute. This article was originally published on The Jerusalem Post sister website, Walla!