7 Signs Your Teen Is in an Unhealthy Relationship

Teenagers cuddling in the grass
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It’s one thing if you don’t like the person your teen is dating, but it’s quite another to realize that your child is in an unhealthy relationship. Being involved in an unhealthy relationship can take a serious toll on your teen’s mental and physical health, social life and education. 

Young adults who experience violence in a relationship are more likely to drink heavily, smoke marijuana and develop depression or experience suicidal tendencies.

This isn’t a situation limited to young women; teen boys can also fall prey to an unhealthy—or even abusive—relationship. So whether you have a son or a daughter, it’s important to monitor your teen’s relationships.

Violence is just one way that abuse manifests in an unhealthy relationship. Your teen could also experience emotional or sexual abuse. If you notice signs that your teen’s relationship may be problematic, it’s important to intervene right away.

Be on the lookout for these indicators of an unhealthy relationship:

1. Your Teen’s Partner is Possessive or Overly Jealous

If your child stops spending time with friends and only spends time with a partner, it might be a sign that her partner is trying to isolate her from others. When asked about it, your teen’s partner might say that he thinks her friends don’t like him or he thinks they’re a bad influence on her.

Even if the teen’s partner is incredibly nice, he might still be controlling to an unhealthy point.

Sometimes, teens who are jealous make demands such as a partner no longer use social media or no longer wear certain types of clothing that might attract attention. These types of restrictions are definite red flags of a dysfunctional relationship.

2. Your Teen Changes Her Habits

It’s never bad to grow as a person or try to eliminate bad habits.

However, it’s not healthy for a person to change who he is for someone else.

If your teen is giving up some of his favorite hobbies, changing the way he dresses or altering his personality, it could be a sign that his girlfriend doesn’t appreciate your teen for who he is. Without appropriate adult intervention, your teen might lose his sense of identity.

3. Your Teen Has Unexplained Injuries

For obvious reasons, unexplained injuries are some of the scariest signs for a parent to witness. If you start to notice bruising or other injuries, ask questions.

Double-check the story to make sure that your teen’s explanations make sense, as your teen might not be entirely truthful at first. A black eye, scratches, or red marks could be definite signs of physical abuse. And quite often, a teen will be too embarrassed, afraid, or protective of her partner to come forward.

4. Your Teen’s Significant Other Doesn’t Respect His Goals

If your teen has always wanted to make the varsity tennis team or attend an out-of-state university, and yet you see the partner belittling those goals, it’s not a good sign.

Sometimes, a desperate or dysfunctional teen will try to talk a partner out of achieving her dreams.

Urge your teen to stay true to the goals she’s always had for her life and don’t allow her partner to hold her back. If your teen’s love interest really cares about her, he’ll want her to do what’s best for her, even when it could strain the relationship.

5. Your Teen Constantly Checks-In

Technology is changing teen romance, and not always in a healthy way. Insecurity and jealousy may lead a teen demand a partner check-in all the time. If your teen doesn’t respond to a text message right away, his partner may call him incessantly.

Smartphones make it easy for teen relationships to become unhealthy as a partner may insist on constant text message contact or frequent social media updates. If your teen feels like he has to constantly tell his girlfriend where he is, what he’s doing and whom he’s with, it’s a bad sign.

6. Your Teen Apologizes Frequently

Toxic partners tend to have bad tempers. As a result, the other person often walks on eggshells to avoid making the other person mad. Quite often, that means apologizing for everything in an attempt to smooth things over.

If your teen says he’s sorry all the time, it could be a sign he’s trying to appease his partner. Apologizing for not calling, for calling too late, for spending too much time with friends—all of those things might be indicators he’s afraid of his partner. Obviously, apologies are called for sometimes, but it’s not healthy if your teen is apologizing all the time.

7. The Relationship Becomes Serious Too Fast

While a lot of teen romances seem to blossom overnight, getting too serious too fast could be a sign of trouble. If your teen is talking about being in love after a single date, or he’s talking about getting married after being together for a few weeks, the relationship is moving too fast.

Sometimes, teens are professing their love for people they’ve never met in person because they’re dating online. Dating apps and social networking sites give them the opportunity to connect with others around the world. And sometimes, they may develop a fantasy about running away together, before they’ve even met. While it may seem harmless on the surface, such relationships can become obsessive and unhealthy.

Monitor Your Teen’s Relationship

As a parent, it’s tempting to issue an ultimatum to your teenager such as, “You’re not allowed to date him anymore,” or, “You’re grounded unless you break up with him”, but that response isn’t the best solution. Trying to end your teen’s relationship for him may backfire and cause your teen to sneak around and become more resolved to continue the relationship.

Talk to your teen about the behaviors that concern you. Focus on the actions and not the person. Say things like, “It concerns me that your boyfriend insists on knowing where you are throughout the day.”

Avoid bad mouthing your teen’s partner. Saying things like, “He’s a real jerk,” may only isolate your teen from you further. And it could prevent your teen from confiding in you in the future.

  • Set limits when necessary. For example, limit your teen’s electronics use. Take away the smartphone at a certain hour each day.
  • Create dating rules that limit unsupervised contact. Allow your teen’s love interest to come to your home so you can keep tabs on what’s going on.  
  • Talk to your teen about what constitutes a healthy relationship. Healthy communication, mutual respect, trust and kindness, are just a few of the things that should be at the center of a healthy relationship.
  • Be curious about your teen’s relationship without being overly intrusive. Ask questions about what she gains from the relationship as well as what she offers.

If you suspect a relationship is abusive, whether your teen is the victim or the perpetrator, seek professional help. Help your teen learn to develop healthier relationships so she can have better relationships in the future.  

Sources:

Ackard DM, Eisenberg ME, Neumark-Sztainer D. Long-term impact of adolescent dating violence on the behavioral and psychological health of male and female youthThe Journal of Pediatrics. 2007;151(5):476-481. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2007.04.034.

Mars TS, Valdez AM. Adolescent dating violence: understanding what is “at risk?” Journal of Emergency Nursing. 2007;33(5):492-494. doi:10.1016/j.jen.2007.06.009.

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