How to Teach Your Teen to Recognize the Signs of a Toxic Relationship

How to Teach Your Teen to Recognize the Signs of a Toxic Relationship

Few parents realize the alarming statistics about dating violence and abuse among teenagers. One in three high school students will experience physical or sexual violence perpetrated by someone they are dating.

Toxic relationships are dangerous, with or without physical or sexual violence. Teens often struggle with recognizing the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship. Even when they recognize that something is wrong, they often struggle with ways to escape the relationship.

Signs that Your Teenager is in a Toxic Relationship

As a parent, you have the life experience to help inform your concerns about your teen’s relationships. This experience may help you recognize potential problems before your teen is aware that anything is wrong. You probably won’t like everyone your son or daughter dates, but it is time to act if you see warning signs.

Warning signs that could mean your teen is in a toxic relationship include:

  • Your teen’s partner is overly jealous or possessive. You may see that your teen spends less time with friends and family or stops participating in the activities they enjoyed. Jealousy and control can be exerted in a subtle way that may be hard for a parent to see. If your teen’s partner attempts to control how your child dresses, influence their social media use, or tells them that certain friends “are a bad influence,” it should serve as a red flag.
  • If your teen’s partner shows a lack of respect for your child’s goals and ambitions, you should pay close attention to the dynamics in the relationship. If your teen has worked to make the varsity team or wanted to work to save for a car, and their partner belittles their goals, beware.
  • Your teen feels the need to continually check in with their partner; one or both parties may be dealing with insecurity and jealousy. If your teen doesn’t respond to a text immediately, do their significant other begin to call incessantly?

Unexplained injuries are one of the scariest signs for a parent. Never hesitate to ask questions if you notice bruising, scratches, or other physical indicators that could mean abuse. Teens who are the victims of physical or sexual abuse often feel embarrassed, afraid, or protective of their partner, so they may not tell the truth about what happened.

Define and Model Healthy Relationships

Your teen absorbs and learns far more from what you do than from what you say. Do you treat others with dignity, respect, tolerance, and patience? Are your relationships based on mutual respect, healthy communication, and kindness? If so, your teen has a far better chance of recognizing toxicity in their relationships.

Discuss what healthy relationships should look like. Remember, it is not just about protecting your child, but also ensuring your child behaves appropriately in a relationship.

It is crucial for parents to understand that their child might be the problem in the relationship. Monitor your teen for signs that they behave in a controlling, jealous, or otherwise unhealthy manner. If you see your teen lashing out in anger toward their partner, it is your duty as a parent to intervene. Contact the parents of your teen’s partner if necessary.

Helping Your Teen Understand That the Relationship is Unhealthy

Recognizing the warning signs yourself may be the easy part. Now, you have to tackle helping your teen understand that the relationship is toxic. Talk to the teen about the behaviors you find concerning, and avoid ultimatums when possible. You can also help your teen identify resources for support and education and encourage them to reach out if they recognize unhealthy patterns in their relationships.

It is tempting to say things like “You are not allowed to date that person,” or ground your teen until they break up. Unfortunately, ultimatums often backfire and lead to sneaking around to continue a relationship with the person. Once that happens, they will feel that they can no longer come to you, and the relationship is then unmonitored.

Instead, set reasonable limits and keep an open dialogue with your teen. Limiting electronic usage is a good idea and gives the teen a break from the pressure of a potentially toxic relationship. Limit unsupervised contact, and instead, invite the love interest to your home. Having them hang out in your home may give you a clearer picture of what is going on.

If you suspect your child is in a relationship that may involve physical or sexual abuse, seek professional help immediately. Contact your local law enforcement to report suspected abuse and seek counseling for your teen. 

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