Talking with Your Teen about Recognizing an Unhealthy Relationship By Jill Sloan RN
Knowing that your teen is in an unhealthy relationship can be both frustrating and frightening. But as a parent, you’re crucial in helping your child develop healthy relationships and in providing support if they’re in an abusive relationship. Remember, teen dating abuse affects both males and females, in all types of relationships, and from any family background.
What Do I Need to Know?
You can look for some early warning signs of abuse. Some of these signs include:
- Your child’s partner is extremely jealous or possessive.
- You notice unexplained marks or bruises.
- Your child’s partner emails or texts excessively.
- You notice that your son or daughter is depressed or anxious.
- Your son or daughter stops participating in extracurricular activities or other interests.
- Your child stops spending time with other friends and family.
- Your child’s partner abuses other people or animals.
- Your child begins to dress differently.
What Can I Do?
- Talk to your child about your concerns. Point out that everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship without violence or fear. Complete a Healthy Relationship Quiz together.
- Be supportive and understanding. Let your son or daughter know that it’s not their fault and no one “deserves” to be abused. Make it clear that you don’t blame them.
- Show your child that you trust and believe them.
- Offer to connect your son or daughter with a professional who they can talk to confidentially, such as a counselor, or Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868, and who can help keep them safe. Help develop a safety plan.
- Ultimately your child must be the one who decides to leave the relationship. There are many reasons why people stay in unhealthy relationships. It is important to respect their choices.
But My Child isn’t in an Unhealthy Relationship
It’s never too early to talk to your child about healthy relationships and dating violence. Here are some sample questions to start the conversation:
- Are any of your friends dating? What are their relationships like? What would you want in a partner?
- Have you witnessed unhealthy relationships or dating abuse at school? How does it make you feel? Were you scared?
- Do you know what you would do if you witnessed or experienced abuse?
- Has anyone you know posted anything bad about a friend online? What happened afterwards?
Need more tips to get started? Here are some other ways you can prepare to talk to your child:
- Provide your child with examples of healthy relationships, pointing out unhealthy behavior. Use examples from television, movies or music.
- Ask questions and encourage discussion; don’t just give a lecture. Make sure you listen, giving them a chance to speak.
- Keep it low key. Don’t push it if your child is not ready to talk. Try again another time.
- Be supportive and nonjudgmental so they know they can come to you for help if their relationship becomes unhealthy in the future.
- Teach them that everyone deserves to be in a good relationship with no violence.
- Discuss the options your child has if they witness dating abuse or experience it themselves.
- Remind your son or daughter they have the right to say no to anything they’re not comfortable with or ready for. They also must respect the rights of others.
- If your child is in a relationship that feels uncomfortable, awkward or frightening, assure them they can come to you. And remember — any decisions they make about the relationship should be their own.
For more information:
Talking with your teen about recognizing an unhealthy online relationship. Canadian Women’s Foundation
Healthy Relationships: Tips for Parents. Ending Violence Against Women Roots of Equality. Springtide Resources.