“We met when I was 16…” And so began another story of a relationship filled with domestic violence. While working at an agency that helps victims of domestic violence, I heard this similar story way too often. Shattering any myths that abuse doesn’t happen in teen relationships, grown women would share how they had met their abuser while they were still in high school. Armed with this knowledge, I want to share with you signs of healthy vs. unhealthy teenage relationships. As parents, we want have the tools we need to teach our teens and be on the lookout for any warning signs in our teen’s relationships.
Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Teenage Relationships: What a Mom Needs to Know
Most of us anticipate having good dating relationships. We look forward to experiencing the magic of falling in love and finding our soul mate. We never believe we would stay in a relationship where someone was deceitful, cruel, deliberately hurtful or physically abusive. So how do things get so twisted around?
Be Aware of Past Relationship Experiences and Beliefs
One thing we need to unpack before we get started on this conversation of teen dating violence, is an awareness of our own experience and our teen’s experience with other people. We all bring into our present relationships, beliefs about people based on our past experience and interactions.
- Can most people be trusted?
- Should I always give people the benefit of the doubt?
- Is it OK to end a relationship if something feels off?
- Is it safer to keep a distance from most people?
- Would anyone ever want to have a close relationship with me?
Processing the above questions can help you and your teen discover your underlying beliefs about people and relationships. Why does this matter? Because we are ALWAYS sending off signals to others, pulling them to us or repelling them. We want to have solid beliefs that pull healthy individuals toward us.
Examples of solid self-confident beliefs that will often attract healthy relationships:
- I have a lot to offer others.
- I am not perfect but I deserve to be treated well.
- There are many wonderful people in the world that can be trusted.
- I can decide to end a relationship that is unhealthy.
- It is not my job to “fix” my friends or girlfriend/boyfriend.
- Healthy relationships take work but they aren’t all consuming.
PARENT TIP: Have a discussion with your teen about their beliefs based on interactions with friends, coaches, teachers, relatives and parents. Examine any faulty beliefs your teen may have and work together to create healthy truths about relationships.
Signs of Healthy Teen Dating Relationships
Here are some signs of a healthy dating relationship.
Healthy Teenager Dating Relationships Promote Well-Being
In a healthy relationship, a teen should feel mostly positive. There will be the typical ups and downs, as in any relationship. But after being with that special someone, your teen should feel good about themselves and the relationship.
This may sound like overly romantic thinking, but don’t dismiss this sign. So often people push aside that nagging feeling that something is amiss because they can’t point to a certain detail. Likewise, if your teen spends time with their boyfriend or girlfriend and comes home feeling good about life, then that is a sign of health.
Positive Teen Dating Relationships Allows for Growth
If a teenager is in a healthy relationship, they become a little stronger, better version of themselves. A teen will want to continue doing activities and hobbies they love and feel capable of taking on new challenges.
Healthy relationships are supportive, as the other person wants what is best for their boyfriend or girlfriend.
Healthy Teen Relationships are Mutual
Both parties are putting forth effort to make the friendship work in a healthy relationship. One person isn’t doing all the calling or planning. And no one person feels responsible for the success or failure of the relationship.
In healthy relationships both parties contribute, bringing and giving of their gifts and talents. There is a give and take in the relationship where both people feel like they give but also receive from the other person.
Healthy People Follow Through with Actions
One very important sign of a healthy dating relationship is that actions and words match.
When it comes to teaching our teens, I have put a fair amount of emphasis on the importance of watching what a person does. Words are cheap and easy to say. But actions take effort and discipline.
Listen to what people say and give them the benefit of the doubt. But more importantly, watch what people do. Most people will only be able to pretend for about 2 months before signs of their true nature show.
Warnings Signs of Teen Dating Violence
Here are some signs to be on guard about as they may be signs of teen dating violence!
Unhealthy Teens have Magical Thinking
Many teens become pulled into toxic relationships because the other person seems so wonderful…overly wonderful. The unhealthy teenager may give gifts, promise love and undying affection quickly.
The abuser may struggle with all or nothing, magical thinking, believing they just have to find the “right” person to make life perfect! So the unhealthy teenager will often attach themselves quickly and pursue their future girlfriend or boyfriend intensely.
As parents, we need to be aware of any of our teen’s relationships that start quickly and intensely!
Toxic Relationships are a Lot of Work
In a toxic relationship, the abuser will be overly emotional, up and loving one minute and accusing and angry the next. It is very stressful for the other party as they are constantly trying to keep their boyfriend or girlfriend happy. It is confusing and becomes all consuming.
In a toxic relationship, teens will began to pull away from activities, friends and even family in an effort to keep their unhealthy boyfriend or girlfriend happy.
Often the unhealthy boyfriend or girlfriend will INSIST that their date stop spending so much time with friends and even family! This is a HUGE warning flag.
Unhealthy Teen Dating Relationships are Verbally Abusive
One sign ALL abusive teenage relationship have is verbal abuse. Physical abuse may or may not be present, but verbal abuse almost always occurs in abusive relationships.
Verbal abuse may include:
- Put downs
- Name calling
- Threats of harm
- Threats to harm themselves if they are left
Make sure your teen knows that verbal abuse IS abuse. If someone ever threatens to harm them, their family or themselves, your teen needs to tell a safe adult immediately!
Abusive Teen Relationships have a Cycle of Violence
A cycle of violence is common in unhealthy teen dating relationships. The abuser will start to feel stressed, so they will become mean, angry or abusive with their boyfriend or girlfriend. The abuse will become intense, followed by a feeling of relief for the abuser. They will be sorry for what they said or what they did. They may even apologize and promise never to act like that again.
Unfortunately, in an abusive teen relationship, the abuse is not just a one time thing. The abuse and violence will continue and typically intensify unless the relationships ends or there is persistent intervention.
The other person constantly blames other people, their boyfriend or girlfriend or outside circumstances for their actions, hindering any real possibility of changing.
Signs of Healthy vs. Unhealthy Teenage Relationships
While we don’t want to approach life with fear, as parents we want to teach our teens to be smart and to value themselves. Know the signs of both healthy and unhealthy relationships and use opportunities to talk to your teens.
PIN for Later!
Has this been a concern in your household? Have you ever talked to your teenager about teen dating violence?