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How to Talk to Your Teen About Financial Abuse

How to Talk to Your Teen About Financial Abuse

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One Love Heart Blue Written by Writer’s Corps member Julie Oltman

While bickering over who will pick up the check isn’t normally considered an issue in teen relationships, arguments over money may be more common than we think.

Financial abuse is when a person attempts to control another person’s ability to earn money and spend it however they choose. According to Brian Pinero, Director of the National Dating Abuse Helpline, financial abuse can happen to teens as young as 13 and usually begins when a teen starts to date or go out with friends.

“When you think about dating someone, you’re going to the movies, and you’re going out and doing cool things together,” Pinero says. “Financial abuse can be that, no matter what you do, you are expected to pay.” And it can happen to all genders, Pinero says men and women are equally impacted by financial abuse.

The Signs of Financial Abuse

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Financial abuse is a ploy used by unhealthy partners to gain power and control in relationships and is usually symptomatic of other forms of abuse. Helping your teen avoid being financially manipulated by a partner or a friend starts with educating them about healthy and unhealthy behaviors. Here are signs your teen should look out for if they suspect they’re in a financially abusive relationship:

  • Your teen is always expected to pay for dates or activities
  • Your teen is often purchasing items or gifts for others that are not reciprocated
  • Your teen’s allowance or earned money is being monitored by their partner or friend
  • Your teen’s financial decisions are criticized by a partner or friend
  • Your teen’s partner  demands access to their money
  • Your teen needs permission from their partner before they spend money

Since conversation about financial abuse has traditionally taken a back seat to other forms of mistreatment, teens may overlook a potentially abusive situation. If you suspect your teen is in a financially abusive relationship, here’s what you can do.

1. Talk to Your Teen About Financial Abuse

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Having an open dialogue about what constitutes financial abuse will be invaluable to you and your teen in the long run.

To start this conversation, we recommend:

Using positive affirmations. Start with a complimentary statement to make your teen comfortable. You could try telling them you’re proud of their hard work at school lately or even make a cheesy comment about how fast they’ve grown up.
Avoiding accusations. Being accusatory will put your teen on the defense before you’re able to get to the heart of the conversation. Approach the conversation from an angle that says, “I want to help,” not “This is your fault.”
Focus on unhealthy behaviors. Focus on behaviors, not domineering friends or partners. This signals that you’re there to support them, and not judge their relationships. A great way of doing this involves asking your teen how specific behaviors make them feel.
Offer help. Finally, offer to intervene if your teen is afraid or unsure of how to handle this issue appropriately.

2. But…Don’t Tell Them What To Do

Believe it or not, being supportive does not mean directing your teen to immediately end their relationship. If their unhealthy partner or friend is willing to change, their relationship may be salvageable. Your job is to be a supportive listener, not to tell them what to do. And let’s face it—simply telling a teen to do something they definitely don’t want to do isn’t always the best way to get them to do it.

3. If Your Teen Needs Help, Intervene


If you suspect financial abuse is only one of the ways your teen is being controlled and manipulated in their relationship then intervene immediately by contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Abusive relationships are complex and the weeks following a breakup are the most dangerous. Speak with a trained professional to develop a safety plan that would allow your teen to safely exit their relationship. If you suspect your teen is in imminent danger contact local law enforcement. It’s better to make the call when you aren’t 100 percent sure if you need to, than to regret not making the call later on.

4. Encourage Them To Seek Help From Someone They Trust

Sometimes the best advice you can give is not advice, but access to resources. While offering your support is important, your teen may be more comfortable speaking with a friend, family member, or counselor. One Love’s trusted partners offer resources like access to peer advocates and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

5. Keep The Conversation Going

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Navigating toxic relationships is tricky and you can expect to have more conversation with your teen in the future. Continue to hear out their concerns, offering solutions whenever possible. You may also use examples of unhealthy behaviors in popular television series as a catalyst for further conversation.

Click here to learn more about starting a conversation with your teen about unhealthy relationships.

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