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Anthony E. Wolf on parenting

The talk you must have with your teenage son Add to ...

I've written about how to talk to Related contentteenage sons sons about responsible sexual behaviour - being considerate, always, of the wants and feelings of a potential sex partner.

But there's another talk you should have with your son: It is about abuse.

Many teenage boys - it has probably always been so - are abusive to their girlfriends. Most are not, but many are. How can you know whether your teenage son is abusive, or potentially abusive, with women? You can't.

That's why it's important for you to talk outright with your son - about what constitutes abuse, and why such behaviours are flat-out wrong. Many of the behaviours that I will list seem obvious. But most boys who abuse their girlfriends either do not think that what they are doing is abuse or think that it's somehow justified.

Should it be mother, father or both who give the talk? Any of the above. How old should the boy be? The talk should probably happen by age 13, earlier if they or their friends are dating. Use the words you want. I offer the following as a guideline, not necessarily as a script:

Many boys abuse their girlfriends. I'm not saying that I think you will or that you do. But many boys abuse girls, and I want you to know clearly what abuse is. All the things that I'm about to talk about are abuse and are not acceptable under any circumstances. It's a pretty big list, but you must not do any of these things.

You can't grab a girl hard, ever.

Never hit a girl.

If a girl gets physical with you - either hitting or kicking or threatening you with physical harm - leave right away. Hitting a girl in self-defense is not okay. Leave.

If you are in an argument and are mad and you get very close to a girl, you must back away. An in-your-face angry guy is often genuinely scary, even though you may know that you will do nothing physical.

If you find yourself getting very mad at a girl, leave.

Do not get in an argument if you have been drinking. If you have been drinking and an argument starts, leave. These are potentially very dangerous circumstances, as they are often where the most serious abuse occurs.

A different way that guys abuse their girlfriends is by getting very possessive and controlling. They do this because they want to be the boss. They do not know how to be in a relationship that allows the other person to be independent. The ways - all bad - that guys do this are:

They constantly want to know where their girlfriend is. Usually they do this by calling or texting many times during the day or night.

They don't want their girlfriend to hang out with friends on their own.

They especially do not want their girlfriend to talk to other guys, even if it is just friendly.

They give them orders as to what they should wear.

They subject girls to verbal put-downs. Guys often think that they are only joking and don't mean anything by it. But all put-downs are abusive.

If you think or know that she is cheating on you, your two choices are that you can stay in the relationship and try to get her to agree to stop cheating, or you can end it. You cannot retaliate, or threaten her if she does not stop. This is never okay.

If you are engaged in any of these behaviours because she is being aggravating and nasty - and she is being truly aggravating and nasty - that is not a reason that makes abuse allowable. No matter what they do to you, women never deserve to be abused. What you can always do instead is leave or end the relationship. These abusive behaviours are just as forbidden when she is being abusive herself.

The above talk may not be relevant for every teenager. Many may never act in this way toward their partners, others may dismiss the words.

But there are many teenage boys who really do not know which behaviours are acceptable and which are completely unacceptable. Nor do they connect these behaviours with the word abuse, which they should. It is good for them to hear all of this.

Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books, including Get out of my life, but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall?: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager.

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