Being a parent of a teen in a serious relationship is never easy. A parent’s worry increases when they suspect their child is in an unhealthy relationship with an abusive partner.
Knowing the signs of an abusive teenage relationship can help parents protect their children and teach them the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship so their child is better prepared to avoid someone with “red flags” in the future.
What Is a Healthy Relationship?
A healthy relationship is one in which both partners respect each other. Good communication is key — disagreements should be discussed respectfully. It’s important to note that both boys and girls may be involved in an abusive relationship, and abusers can be both hetero and homosexual.
By the time they reach their teen years, most kids already know that physical violence is wrong. Slapping, hair-pulling, pinching, or scratching are obvious physical abuse. However, emotional abuse can be harder to spot, especially for teens trying to navigate a romantic relationship for the first time.
Emotional abuse takes many forms:
- Possessiveness or extreme jealousy
- Controlling behavior, such as forbidding their partner from being around friends
- Manipulative behavior, such as threatening a break-up or self-harm
- Stalking and harassment, both in-person and online
These are just a few of the signs of emotionally abusive behavior. If your teen’s partner is asking them to do anything they are not comfortable with, including pressuring them sexually (both in-person and by asking for explicit photos), they are a victim of emotional abuse.
It’s common for teens not to disclose the details of their relationships with their parents, and if their partner is manipulating them emotionally, your child may view you as an obstruction to their relationship.
Some common signs of abuse to look for are:
- Unexplained bruising or other injuries
- Using drugs or alcohol
- Changes in their appetite or sleeping patterns
- Changes in their friend group or interest in extracurricular activities
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Making excuses for their partner’s behavior
If you’ve noticed some of these signs, what can you do?
Five Tips for Parents To Protect Teens in an Abusive Relationship
You could start a conversation by discussing relationships in general and how the behaviors you observed are not signs of a healthy relationship.
- Call 911 if you believe your teen is in immediate danger
- Talk openly about their relationship, and reassure your teen that they will not be in trouble if they did something “bad” (sent photos, had sex, drank, or did drugs)
- State what you have observed and why you are concerned, focusing on the actions, not the person
- Reassure your teen that being in an abusive relationship is never their fault and that you love them and will protect them
- Decide on actions to take together, and ensure that you are near in case of an emergency
Above all, ensure your teen knows that you and their family love them.
Protecting Your Child After the Relationship Ends
Ending an abusive relationship can be just as dangerous for teens as it can be for adults. Your safety plan should include protecting your teen in the weeks and months afterward, including alerting the school, filing a police report, and ensuring they are safe going to and from school or when they are with friends.
A teen’s online safety is just as important as their physical safety, so ensure that their ex is blocked on social media or suggest a digital break.