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Teens and violence factsheet

  • Domestic and family violence can happen in any relationship and is not just physical
  • Teenagers can be affected by violence they witness, experience directly, or learn about from others
  • Domestic and family violence may bring up a range of physical, psychological and emotional responses for teenagers
  • One of the best ways you can support a teenager is by providing them with a positive adult-teenager relationship

 

What is domestic and family violence?

Domestic and family violence is violence that happens in a relationship. It can be physical, but also takes many other forms. Domestic and family violence affects everyone around it, whether they experience it directly or witness the violence or signs of violence.

Domestic and family violence:

  • Happens when one person in a relationship hurts another or makes them feel unsafe
  • Involves a pattern of control, where ongoing abuse stops someone from feeling free to live life as they choose
  • Is not just physical – it can be emotional, financial, spiritual, social, legal, reproductive, and can include other forms of abuse such as stalking and neglect
  • Can happen in any kind of relationship — not just with partners, husbands and wives or boyfriends and girlfriends (intimate partners)
  • Can happen in any location, not just the home

How might a teenager experience violence?

There are many ways a teenager can experience violence. They may experience it themselves, witness it happening to some close to them or a person on the street. They may have a friend confide in them about experiences of violence at home.

A teenager will be impacted by violence if they:

  • Experience violence and abuse themselves
  • Witness violence or its consequences (injuries, distress, damaged property)
  • Hear about someone’s experience of violence
  • Play the role of carer, protector or supporter of someone impacted by violence
  • Live in a violent home or are regularly in a violent environment

How might a teenager be impacted by violence?

Even when they are not experiencing violence directly, exposure to violence puts teenagers at risk. They may engage in risk-taking or self-medicating behaviour, this is often to block out bad memories or numb emotional pain. Trying to stay away from the home may put them in unsafe situations. Having to take on adult responsibilities for themselves or younger family members can create emotional and psychological burdens.

A teenager may respond to these impacts of violence by experiencing:

  • Anger, aggression and lashing out
  • Trouble sleeping, nightmares, bed wetting and chronic tiredness
  • Anxiety, depression and panic
  • Alcohol or drug misuse
  • Self-harming behaviour
  • Difficulties with school and disengaging from school
  • Avoidance of social situations or avoiding home

How can I support a teenager exposed to violence?

The best thing you can do is provide them with a positive adult-teenager relationship. Be an open and unconditional listener, allow them to participate in the process of seeking professional support and making safety plans. Find ways to create opportunities for positive and trusting relationships.

Other things you can do include:

  • Ask how they are feeling, focus on listening, let them know that you are fully there for them
  • Let them know there are support options available to them
  • Don’t speak negatively of abusive family members, but let them know that violence and abuse is never ok
  • With their input, seek professional advice and support
  • Model positive relationships by being respectful and not aggressive when interacting with others
  • Help them get involved in things that they enjoy and that boost self-esteem and mental wellbeing, such as hobbies, sports, and regular exercise
  • Where possible keep them safe from violence

What if I need support?

Supporting someone impacted by violence can be upsetting. Know that you don’t have to do it on your own. You can call 1800RSEPECT on 1800 737 732 for information, counselling and referral. Remember that you are better able to support when you feel supported yourself.

Talking with teens about violence

  • If abuse is happening in your home, open conversations with your teenager are important
  • Talking openly helps teenagers understand their right to safety and respect in their relationships
  • You don't have to tell them everything or have all the answers
  • Starting the conversation is usually the hard part. Here we look at some ways to make it easier

Video: talking with teens about violence

Talking with teens about domestic and family violence

1800RESPECT

Talking with teens about violence at home

If abuse is happening in your home and you have teenagers in your care, open conversations are important. Giving teenagers a chance to hear from you and speak about their feelings can be very healing.

Here we discuss why these conversations are important and how you can start them.

Do I have to talk with my teenager about the abuse?

Even if they don’t witness the abuse directly, everyone in your home will be very aware that something is not right. Ignoring the issue can leave a young person feeling more anxious and confused.

Talking about abuse with teenagers lets them know that they do not need to remain quiet or keep secrets if anyone hurts them. This can break the cycle of abuse and help them understand their right to safety and respect in their relationships.

How do I start the conversation?

There are many ways to start a conversation of this kind. Some things will depend on your own understanding of your teenager. It’s good to find a private time and place where you are unlikely to be interrupted. 

We’ve provided some examples of general scripts, but this conversation is best done using your own words. Sometimes practising out loud can help you feel comfortable. These conversations are not ones we ever expect to have, so it’s only natural to feel nervous and uncomfortable about beginning to speak about abuse.

You may want to start by saying something like “I was hoping to talk to you about the way [person] gets when they [are angry / controlling / have been drinking / are upset about something, etc.]”

From here you can:

Tricky questions and reactions

It’s impossible to know how anyone will react to a conversation of this kind. Don’t take bad reactions personally or let hard questions put an end to the talking. Even if the conversation becomes tough, it is still playing a very positive role for your teenager’s wellbeing.

What if they don't want to talk?

Let it go for now, but let them know you are there for them to talk to whenever they want. Open conversation may come about slowly over time.

It’s important not to use a rejection as a reason to avoid talking altogether. You may want to try again in a week or two. It can be a good idea to do things differently this time. For example, if your first conversation happened after school in the kitchen, you may want to try talking after dinner in the lounge room. Use your own best judgement and find a time and place that are private and safe for you both.

You may want to say something like "Hey, remember the other week when I spoke to you about [person’s] behaviour? You didn’t really want to talk, but I wanted to check if you’ve felt like talking since then?"

Again, let them know that you are always there to talk to, now or in the future.

What if they ask hard questions: how much should I tell them?

While it’s best to be guided by your teenager and their questions, you don’t have to have all the answers. It’s OK for you to find it hard to talk about certain things. You can be honest about this:

"I want to be as open and honest with you as I can, but there are some things that are hard for me to talk about."

 "The most important thing is that you know what is happening is not OK and that I want to keep us safe."

Let your teenager know you are always there for them to talk to, but if they want to talk to someone else, that’s OK too. You can offer to help them find another trusted adult they feel comfortable speaking with. You can also connect them with a professional support service if that’s something they are open to.

Where can I seek support for my teen or myself?

Don’t forget about yourself. These conversations can bring up a lot of emotion and it helps to have someone you can go to for support. Talking to a close and trusted friend or family member or a professional support worker can make it easier.

If having this conversation creates distress for you or your teenager, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or through online chat for support.

There are a range of other options in Australia for adults and children seeking support with the impacts of domestic and family violence. These include Kids Helpline, school counsellors, the police, as well as various state-based services. More information can be found on our Service directory. You can also visit the Australian Institute of Family Studies' list of helplines and telephone counselling services for children, young people and parents.

Safety and self-care

  • Safety planning is important for anyone experiencing domestic and family violence
  • Conversations with teenagers about safety planning should make clear that it is not up to them to stop the violence
  • As a person supporting a teen impacted by domestic and family violence, it is important to look after yourself as well
  • This section also includes some self-care tips from a parent survivor of domestic violence

Safety planning with your teenager

Teenagers should be able to discuss, plan and practise steps they can take to be safe in a home where there is violence and abuse. Support people like family and friends can help to develop and carry out a safety plan too. They can also offer a place to go or be ready to listen and offer support.

How can I work with my teenager on increasing their safety?

Explain that you would like to work together to come up with a safety plan to use in case of emergencies. Any conversations with a teenager about safety planning should make clear that it is not up to them to stop the violence or take on sole responsibility for the safety of the family.

A safety plan should include:

  • Step by step actions your teenager can take to increase safety at home, outside the home or in situations such as contact visits
  • When would it be important to leave and how they might know this – you may want to come up with a code word that you can say when they need to leave the home in case of an emergency
  • The safe places they could go and how to get there
  • Things to reduce the risk of harm, such as leaving early when things feel unsafe or not stepping in to stop the violence
  • Contact details for three or more people they could turn to who would listen and take actions to assist them
  • How and when to contact emergency services and other services that may be needed
  • What to take when leaving, such as money, an escape bag, important items that may bring them comfort

How can I help increase my teenager’s mental and emotional safety?

  • Help them learn healthy ways of expressing and dealing with anger, fear and other emotions
  • Help them get involved in things that boost their self-esteem and make them feel good about themselves
  • Always act in a way that is non-threatening and non-violent
  • Think about taking them to counselling or therapy if possible
  • Keep as much structure and routine with them as you can

Self-care tips from a survivor

Helen is a survivor, a mother to two children and works as a freelance Workplace and Employment Advisor. Here she offers some self-care tips that she has found helpful in her recovery.

 

The relief and joy I felt when I escaped a violent relationship was short lived when I was very quickly thrust into co-parenting with my former abuser. The abuse is now carried through my children, who are trapped in the middle of two non-communicating parents. Self-care has therefore become critical and essential in assisting me to reduce the ongoing chaos and unpredictability, which creates stress and undermines my ability to parent, work or even function on a daily basis.

These tips have been useful in aiding my recovery. They are immediately and freely available and depend only on yourself. We all have the internal resources and varying degrees of ability to be able to put self-care into practice. I hope that those who do will reap the much deserved benefits.