How (and Why) to Talk to Kids About Relationship Violence

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Relationship violence has been in the news a lot lately. Impossible to avoid, in fact. But does this mean you’ve discussed it with your kids?

I know: talking about people who physically abuse vulnerable loved ones does not make for the most enthralling family dinner conversations.

But Ray Rice, Janay Palmer and the NFL have given all of us parents a priceless opportunity to educate our sons and daughters about a societal scourge experienced by 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men. As a victim of physical abuse in my 20s, I sure wish my parents had talked to me about the subject when I was a kid.

If you’re speechless about how to broach the topic of domestic violence with your children, keep it simple. Mention what you’ve read or heard about Ray Rice or Greg Hardy or Adrian Peterson, and that you just want them to know it is always wrong to hit someone you love. That it is also always dangerous to keep it secret if someone hits you. Emphasize that you will never judge them if they are a victim of relationship violence. Repeat once more: it is always wrong to hit someone you love, wrong to use love to terrorize someone, and always wrong to keep it secret.

That’s it.

Here’s why: we all need to talk to our kids about relationship violence. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 15 million children are abused, or witness family abuse, every year. Women and girls ages 16 to 24 are three times as likely to be victims of relationship abuse vs. other women. Roughly 500 girls in this age category are killed by boyfriends, husbands, or former partners every year. So chances are good that your kids, or their friends, already know more about this subject than you think.

Education and awareness about the warning signs, and the potential lethality of relationship abuse, are critical ways for our kids to avoid being victims themselves, or to get help quickly if someone they love becomes abusive.

And don’t tell yourself you will tackle this tricky parenting subject later, when your child is older. Do it today. No child is too young to hear the message “It is always wrong to hit someone you love, or to be hit by someone you love.”

I started when my kids were about four or five, the first time I needed to explain why I had gotten divorced before meeting Daddy. Trust me, the younger the child, the easier it is to talk about sensitive subjects. When a child is 6 or 7, you just need a few sentences and then you are done; you’ve planted the most important message and you have shown that you are a resource for more information in the future.

If you need a few tech tools, here are some great resources to turn to, with or without your kids.

Watch the OneLove Foundation video. Sixty seconds explains relationship violence, and how bystanders can help stop it. Created by the family of Yeardley Love, who was murdered at the University of Virginia by her ex-boyfriend two weeks before graduation. Watch it and shatter the silence.

Check out Love is Respect, a national resource for teenagers and parents who have experienced teen dating abuse. Advice, information, a dedicated hotline, and online quizzes.

Take the free, anonymous OneLove Danger Assessment survey via online app.

Always fun for dinner table quizzes: How many high school students report being hit? What percent of college students say they have been coerced sexually? Learn more about teen dating statistics.

But the bottom line remains: do something to educate your kids about the dark side of love. Abuse thrives only in silence. You can help your children avoid abuse in their lifetimes by talking about it with them today.

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