Teens have unrealistic and idealistic views about love. They discount the importance of respect, trust, honesty, and communication in a relationship and believe their love for their dating partner is all that matters. They are not emotionally prepared for navigating the complications of relationships and are more likely to become depressed, use drugs or alcohol, or attempt suicide, when a relationship does not work out as they expected.
Younger teens especially are still developing a sense of their identity and learning to make responsible decisions. They are at a higher risk of succumbing to peer pressure and engaging in risky behaviors, such as sex . Parents need to talk with their teens about dating and watch for signs that their teen is in an unhealthy relationship such as showing signs of defiance and erratic behavior.
Talk to Your Teen
Talk to your teen often about dating and healthy relationships. Assure her that she can come and talk to you about anything. You don’t need to know all the details of her private life, and you won’t judge her, but you will help her in any way you can. If she doesn’t feel like she can talk to you, encourage her to talk with someone she can trust. If she ever feels afraid or uncomfortable with a dating partner, she needs to reach out to someone. Help your teen to understand that people have a right to set boundaries and that it’s important to respect boundaries others have set. It may be terribly uncomfortable, but talk about safe sex and consent, and the consequences of sexual activity. Discuss aspects of an unhealthy relationship and watch for those signs that your daughter is with an abusive dating partner.
Warning Signs of an Abusive Dating Relationships
An emotionally abusive partner is often controlling, possessive, and jealous. They may expect your teen to constantly check in with them and account for where she’s been and who she’s been with. They may try to isolate her from her friends and family, and insist she spend all her time with them. They may tell her how to dress or wear her hair or make up, and who she can and can’t talk to or spend time with. They may become angry when she talks to other teens. They will call her names, bully, shame and belittle her. They will manipulate her and threaten to break up with her if she doesn’t do what they demand. They will say things like, “If you really loved me, you would do what I want.” They are often hostile, disrespectful, intimidating, dishonest, and argumentative. The couple will spend a lot of their time arguing and being unhappy about the relationship.
A physically abusive partner will hit, punch, slap, pinch, shove, or kick their partner. Watch for signs of physical abuse in your daughter, such as unexplained bruises, scratches, red marks, black eyes, or other injuries. Ask about the injury and double check on the story that she tells you. Often teens will lie about being victims of abuse. Tell your teen that no one has the right to hurt her. True love does not involve violence of any kind. Encourage her to tell you or someone she trusts if she is being physically abused or if she is afraid of her partner.
A sexually abusive partner forces their date to engage in sexual activities when she doesn’t want to or when she can’t consent – if she is drunk, high, or unconscious. They may threaten to break up or spread rumors if she doesn’t agree to have sex. They may demand sex without a condom despite the risks.
Teens are often embarrassed or ashamed to admit that they are being physically or sexually abused by a partner, and may try to hide it from their parents. Tell your teen that the victim of abuse is never to blame, and should not be embarrassed to ask for help.
Sometimes when a teen tries to end an unhealthy relationship, their partner will stalk them, both in person and online. They may call, text, and send messages that are offensive or threatening. They may harass your teen on social media, or use GPS to track her in person. This is criminal and dangerous activity and needs to be reported to the police before it escalates to violence.
Teens today often develop relationships online. They may talk and text on the phone or chat online without meeting in person. Be sure to warn you teen that people are not always who or what they claim to be online. That hot-looking 17-year-old may really be a 40-year-old pedophile who’s trolling for his next victim. Also discuss the dangers of revealing personal information online. Remind your teen that photos and messages can always be saved and possibly used to embarrass them. Warn them about sexting (sending nude or suggestive photos) and the possible social or legal consequences when teens are underage.
If your teen is planning to meet with someone that they’ve been chatting with online, ask them to let you know. Encourage them to meet in a public place. You may even want to sit and watch from a distance to make sure that your teen is safe.
Encourage your teen to tell you if someone is bullying them online, or sending unwanted and suggestive messages or photos. Monitor your teen’s online use. Check on the websites she visits and the people she communicates with. Set limits for online activity, and if necessary, block access to websites you consider inappropriate for teens.
Monitor Your Teen’s Dating Behavior
Although it’s hard for parents to accept, it is possible that your teen is the abusive partner in a relationship. Watch for signs that your daughter is engaging in abusive behaviors, stalking, or cyberbullying her partner. If she is disrespectful, argumentative, and inconsiderate with you, it’s very possible that she is not treating her partner well either.
When Teens Break the Rules Repeatedly
If your teen refuses to follow your rules, including those for dating, curfew, online activity, substance use, driving, or other dangerous behaviors, you will need to intervene. It may already feel like your daughter’s behavior is completely out of control. You probably have tried talking with her, disciplinary measures, and therapy. It may be time to consider enrolling her in a residential treatment center.
When a teen goes to a therapeutic boarding school, she is completely removed from negative peer influences, access to drugs, alcohol and social media, and the triggers or habits that led to her problematic behaviors. Teens with emotional, psychological, and behavioral issues often have problems with dating relationships as well. At a therapeutic boarding school, teens are provided intensive therapy – individual, group and family therapy. They learn to understand themselves, their emotions and behaviors, and learn how to develop healthy relationships with their family and their peers.
Teens in therapeutic boarding schools are safe and closely supervised. Doctors and therapists monitor their physical and mental health. An academic program provides help with learning disorders and enables teens to earn school credits. Teens also participate in fun and healthy social and physical activities. HelpYourTeenNow is an advocacy group that will help you to decide if a therapeutic boarding school is a good choice for your teen, and help you to find the right school for your daughter.