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.

Talking with teens about domestic and family violence

Talking with teens about domestic and family violence

Unfortunately, many teenagers will witness or experience violence and abuse at some stage. This video offers suggestions for how to support teenagers who have been exposed to violence and abuse. It provides ideas about how to start a conversation, guide positive and safe ways to offer support, and look out for the physical, mental and emotional safety of your team.

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:

“I know you’ve seen [person] behave abusively [or call me names / hurt me / scare me] before.”

“I know you’ve seen me upset because of things [person] does.”

“I know you can see things happening at home that are not good.”

 “I see how sad/angry/scared/upset this makes you.”

“The way [person] gets when they [are angry/drunk/upset] is not OK.”

“Behaviour like that is never OK.”

“It’s important you know that no one is to blame for what [person] does, except them.”

“No matter what they say, that behaviour is never my fault or yours.”

Say: “The things that [person] does are abusive and not OK.”

Not: “[person] is a bad/abusive person”

“I see how this is affecting you. I want you to know you can talk to me about your feelings, whatever they are.”

“If you want to talk about how all of this is making you feel, I’m here to listen. You can talk to me any time.”

“If you don’t want to talk to me, we could also think of someone else you can talk to.”

  • Teenagers may have many complicated feelings, including things like guilt about loving the abusive person, or resentment towards non-abusing loved ones
  • Let them know these feelings are normal and that you love and support them no matter what
  • Understand that they may not want to talk straight away, but let them know you are always there to listen
  • They may not have the words yet to describe how they are feeling. Try not to load them with your words, but give them time to think and express their feelings. They may choose to do this in different ways, such as:
    • Speaking to you or a close fried
    • Writing
    • Speaking with a 1800RESPECT counsellor
    • Speaking with a school counsellor
    • Looking at websites, such as 1800RESPECT or Reach Out

“It is not your job to stop what [person] is doing.”

“I know you want to help, but it is not safe for you to do that. You must never try to stop [person].”

“There is a way you can help. It would be great if we could work together on a plan to help keep us as safe as possible. Do you think we could do that together?”

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.

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. Use your own best judgement and find a time and place that are private and safe for you both.

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.

Contact ReachOut

Get in touch with Reach Out, Australia's leading online mental health organisation for young people and their parents.

ReachOut website