Ahh, the memories of young love! Things were so much simpler then or at least that is how it often seems to us parents when we look back longingly at our first forays into love. But the reality of young love can be just as impactful as love at later stages of life. As much as we may like to avoid thinking about it, violence and abuse occurs in teen relationships just like it does in adult relationships. And, just like in adult relationships, it can be difficult for teenagers to see the damaging effects of the relationship and to leave an unhealthy relationship with someone they love. This is why parents need to know the signs that something unhealthy is happening in their teen’s relationship and what to do to help and support their teen in this situation.
While we all want the best for our children and certainly don’t want them to be involved in any relationship where they experience violence or abuse, these types of relationships can cause more than just immediate damage. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that teenagers who experience dating violence are more likely to become heavy drinkers, to smoke marijuana, to experience depression, and to contemplate suicide as they move into adulthood. Additionally, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men who experience sexual assault, physical violence or stalking as an adult experienced some form of dating violence during their teen years.
This is an easy warning sign to see but one that is often overlooked. If your teenager’s significant other is belittling, demeaning, or unkind to them in front of others there may be cause for concern. Other disrespectful behavior can include consistently showing up late, standing them up, and using lack of communication as a tactic of mistreatment.
While it is true that young love can often look a little obsessive to adults, there is a point where this crosses the line. If your teen’s boyfriend or girlfriend is calling all the time, demanding to know where they are at all times, or getting upset when your teen spends time with other friends or your family, there is cause for concern.
3. Extreme Jealousy
Jealousy is a human emotion that we all experience but if this jealousy crosses the line into the extreme category, there may be a problem. For parents, this can look like the boyfriend who prohibits his girlfriend from being friends with certain people or the girlfriend who demands that her boyfriend stop participating in activities where other girls are present.
4. Changing Behaviors
Teenagers are changing all the time as they try on different versions of themselves as part of defining who they are. This is normal. Changing habits, hair color, likes, dislikes, clothing styles, and activities for a boyfriend or girlfriend is not and can be a warning sign of an unhealthy relationship.
If you are concerned that your teenager is involved in an unhealthy relationship discuss your concerns with them in a caring way. Be patient and supportive without giving ultimatums or making demands because your teen needs you more than ever if their boyfriend or girlfriend is becoming abusive. If you aren’t sure how to proceed without alienating your child or become concerned for their safety or welfare, seek advice from a mental health professional who can help you decide how best to handle the situation.