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Domestic Violence and Your Child - A Very Teachable Moment

09/17/2014 11:05PM ● Published by Nancy Babin

When recent events caused a media frenzy surrounding the domestic violence situation with NFL standout Ray Rice, it was only a matter of time that similar, professional entities would soon fall into place to ensure that their corporate policies included parameters to enforce appropriate sanctions as well in case another incident occurred.  Let’s face it – Ray Rice isn’t the first professional athlete to do something as cowardly as he did.  

Several days after the Rice elevator “video,” suspension, and critics came out, Bud Selig, Major League Baseball’s current but outgoing commissioner, announced that he had directed his front office people to ensure that the rules surrounding domestic violence in connection with his players and their significant others would be discussed during the next contract talks.  Selig went on stating that, “We (MLB) haven’t had any cases - I’m happy to say - for a long, long time.  I can’t remember when the last time was.”  

Well, isn’t one case just one case too many?  

Social issues that involve sport teams, prominent athletes, movie stars and other famous members of society help bring important issues to your dinner table.  As a parent, guardian or even a relative of a young adolescent child growing up in Generation Y, it is extremely important that we utilize these very “teachable moments” to bring important dialogue to the forefront instead of sweeping it under the carpet.

Domestic violence is wrong – Period!  

Now, that goes for either partner of a significant other who decides to verbally or, in the Rice case, physical abuse the other partner.  It’s not right for a man or a woman to be the aggressor, and I’m sure we can sit around and debate “who started it,” and “who hit first” for months to come.  That debate really isn’t important.  What is important is the fact that we understand as parents and care providers of today’s millennials that both victims and aggressors usually are identified when they are adolescents. 

This is your teachable moment.  

Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.  Don’t think it can’t happen to your child or your family - Maybe it is happening already.  Back in the early 1990’s when many parents of adolescents today were in the dating scene, estimates for courtship violence in teens ranged from 21-38% (Bergman, 1992).  Today, one in every three adolescents is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, in a society where 72% of eighth and ninth graders are already “dating.” (National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2014)  

It is important that you sit down and talk to your child about the effects domestic violence has on an individual and a family.  As important as the “sex talk” may be, the “domestic violence talk” can be considered even more critical.  Boys and girls start to discover each other earlier these days where it is not that uncommon to hear from a sixth grader that he is “going out with someone,” meaning that the two consider themselves in a relationship.  No matter whether you think this relationship is real or not, to your child it’s as real as it gets.  More important, ask yourself “who defined for them the roles of a relationship?”, and “where did he learn how to express his feelings to this other person?”  When entering the discussion about domestic violence and dating, keep the following in mind:

Start by telling a story.
Maybe a story about a situation you were in at a younger age will “level the playing field” and make your conversation more relaxed.

Make sure your discussion is age appropriate.
Do not use words, phrases, and analogies with your 4th grader that you would/could use with your high school child.  Speak directly to them and try not to “dance” around the issues.  Let them know that this topic is important to you and it should also be important to them.  Make sure to ask them what they already know about domestic violence and how people should treat each other in a relationship.

My body is my body.
Your child needs to understand that no one is to do anything to his/her body that will make him/her feel uncomfortable, become injured or physically hurt.

Talk about bullying.
Saying or doing things to hurt others is wrong.  Make sure that your child knows that he/she can tell you if there is a problem at school, on the playground, during basketball practice, etc.  Contact school officials and even the local authorities about what is occurring.  Speak with other parents as well to try and work the issues out between adolescents.

Use a calm, direct voice. 
Don’t beat around the bush.  If you think your daughter is having a domestic violence issue with her boyfriend, come out and ask.  Confront the boyfriend as well.  You may not get an answer or the reaction you were expecting, but it is now out in the open to be revisited later.  Don’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings – this is the welfare of your child we are discussing.

Correct your child and family members.
If you don’t like the way a member of your family talks about women in general or a “girl at school,” tell that person how disappointed you are that he/she is using those words to describe someone.  Ensure that your children and partner utilize appropriate terms when describing the gender, race, and creed of a person or group.  Vulgar language should not be tolerated.

Remember to keep using those teachable moments.
Speak to your children and their close friends about domestic violence and other adolescent issues every opportunity you have.  Inform other parents if their child was part of your discussion during a teachable moment. 


It may be too late for Ray Rice, but it’s never too late to prevent your daughter and/or son from becoming a victim or an aggressor.  Know when those teachable moments are right in front of you and use them to discuss those difficult topics that need to be discussed.  It won’t be soon but one day, many years from now your child will thank you for those talks.

Until that day….it’s OK to be “uncool.”


Author:   Richard D. Tomko, Ph.D.

Currently Superintendent of Schools, K-12 district in Bergen County, NJ
Also adjunct professor Graduate Leadership and Research at Manhattan College
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Parenting domestic violence teachable moments

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