Rural Roots August 21, 2006
Parents have told me that their young teenage daughter seems totally infatuated with her boyfriend and is controlled by him. She has pulled away from her regular friends and cut down on her interest in sports and schoolwork. The parents are worried for her. She also doesn't want to listen to them. She thinks they just don't like her boyfriend..
Parents have a right to be worried. Parents must be alert to protecting their young daughters from getting into dating relationships which end up controlling or abusive. The early teen years are when parents need to be most active in guiding their daughters life, even though she may resent it at first.
Teenage girls are often attracted to older guys, partly because girls are often socially more mature at that time then their same age peers. It is not the age, but the behaviour of the boyfriend that parents must watch carefully.
Parents need to spot these early warning signs of a controlling, abusive relationship.
He phones she has to call back immediately or he gets angry.
He told her he loved her, very early in the relationship, often on the 1st or 2nd date.
He is jealous if she looks at or even talks socially with another boy.
He often gives her "advice" about her choice of friends, clothing or make-up.
He calls her demeaning names, like "bitch", then laughs, and says he was only kidding.
Since she met him she keeps things more to herself from you, but also from good friends.
She cries easily after talking to him, and blames herself for upsetting him
She makes excuses for his poor behaviour, and thinks it is her fault he acted that way.
She always tells him she's sorry for whatever she did, whatever it is, if she upsets him.
She has to explain her every action to him.
He tells her she is stupid, or that no other boy would treat her as well as he does.
Jill Murray's book, But I Love Him, is a must for all parents who have teenage girls Murray found that most adult women staying at safe shelters usually first got involved in abusive relationship in their early teens.
But I love him is a teenager's common response to parental concern. Teens also become deaf when parents point out behaviours they are concerned about, and reply "You don't really know him," or "But he loves me," or "I have a right to love who I want."
Parents need to challenge their daughter's idea of what love is. Love is not a feeling. Love is not what someone says. Love is an action. It is how a person treats you. When a boyfriend continues to act in hurtful abusive or putdown ways, even if he said he is sorry, is that loving behaviour?
Murray suggests a parent ask their daughter the following counter-acting questions.
Do you think always being afraid of upsetting someone is a part of a loving relationship?
Do you think it I is normal for a girl in a good relationship to spend so much time crying?
Why do you need to let him know where you are all the time?
Why is it right for him to call you names and make you feel bad about yourself?.
Are any of these loving behaviours?
Focusing on how the boyfriend treats her, and whether that is a loving or a controlling behaviour, can help the teenager look at herself and become more objective to her situation.
Murray also suggests that if a teen says "He is nice", they reply with the question:
Are all his behaviours towards you nice and respectful?
If you had a daughter in the future, would you be thrilled if she wanted to date or marry a man who treated her the way he treats you?
Would you think she had made the best choice?
What would you say to her?
I Love Him, by Jill Murray, Harper-Collins Paperback, 2001 (ISBN 0-06-095728-8) is important reading for all parents of teenage girls.
By responding quickly and effective to a daughter's becoming involved in a controlling and abusive dating relationship they may save her from a lifetime of grief.
In next week's column I will share Murray's outline of the "Power and Control Wheel" and the "Teen Relationship Equality Wheel" which clearly describes healthy and unhealthy behaviours in dating.