Teens are just starting to navigate the world of romantic, interpersonal relationships. Even when they have good guidance from parents, teenagers can find themselves in an unhealthy or toxic relationship.
This can happen due to their own unwise choices or due to the unwise choices or unhealthy attitudes of their partner.
We as parents need to remain alert and vigilant once we recognize the signs, because our teens may be so emotionally involved that they can’t see it.
Effects of Toxic Relationships on Teens
“Teen dating violence is defined as the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship ... It can occur in person or electronically and might occur between a current or former dating partner.”1
Many teens do not report incidents of violence in their dating relationships because they are afraid of what their friends will think, or what parents might say, particularly if mom or dad or guardian didn’t approve of them dating in the first place.
Youths who experience violence in dating relationships are more likely to also experience: 1
• “Symptoms of depression and anxiety”
• “Engagement in unhealthy behaviors, such as tobacco and drug use, and alcohol”
• “Involvement in antisocial behaviors”
• “Thoughts about suicide”
Approaching your Teen about a Toxic Relationship
Once you suspect or become aware that your son or daughter is in an unhealthy relationship, your involvement and support in helping to get your youth out of that situation is critical.
Teens are famous for forging on ahead with a relationship despite parental warnings, but you can’t give up. The best way to at least plant the seed that the relationship isn’t healthy is to ask your son or daughter questions that relate to the evidence of abuse that you see.
With each piece of evidence you present, calmly ask, “Do you think that’s okay?” “Is that how you want to be treated?” “Is that how you deserve to be treated?”
Some of these questions may be about:2
• Whether your teen’s partner is extremely jealous or possessive
• Unexplained marks or bruises
• The amount of emails or texts your teen receives from their partner
• Symptoms of depression or anxiety that you notice in your son or daughter
• How your teen has stopped participating in extracurricular activities or other interests that they used to enjoy
• How your son or daughter has stopped spending time with other friends and family
• How you’ve observed your youth’s partner treats other people or animals
It’s important for you to talk to your teen without getting angry and without putting them on the defensive. This can happen if you minimize your teen’s feelings by saying things like, “You’re only 16. You don’t know what love is, yet.”
Once teens get defensive, they will stop listening, and they will close you out along with any help you try to give them.
Gently, tell your teen that you’re concerned for their safety and point out all the behaviors that you see that are not normal or healthy for their physical and emotional wellbeing.
Tell them that it’s not their fault that their partner treats them this way, and that you know it’s scary, but that getting out of that relationship is the right thing to do.
Helping your Teen Get Out
Sometimes trying to get out of an unhealthy relationship is just as scary as being in one.
Remember, we’re talking about standing up to youths who have already learned how to intimidate and manipulate people into getting what they want. They are already engaging in behaviors and actions that are intended to hurt others.
There is always the potential for the abuse to get worse, particularly if both parties attend the same school and if the ex-partner has influence over other schoolmates.
Get the school and police involved if necessary.
Let your son or daughter know that you support them in making the right decision. And then help them rebuild their trust in romantic relationships by re-establishing and reinforcing values and boundaries and helping them stick to them.
Your teen may need a little more help getting back on her feet after this kind of relationship, but it’s important that you help her turn it into a learning experience that can be applied to future relationships, or to help another friend get out of a toxic relationship.
“There are many complex reasons why victims stay in unhealthy relationships. Your support can make a critical difference in helping your son or daughter find their own way to end their unhealthy relationship.”2
1. Teen Dating Violence. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. Accessed: Dec 29, 2014.
2. Help Your Child. LoveisRespect.org. Web. Accessed: Dec 29, 2014.
3. Talk with Your Teen about Healthy Relationships. HealthFinder.gov. Web. Accessed: Dec 29, 2014.
4. What Girls Need to Know About Growing Up: Talking to Your Daughter about Dating, Sex, and Peer Pressure. Barker, Joanne. WebMD. Web. Accessed: Dec 29, 2014.
Reviewed December 30, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith