Recently, I shared information regarding the prevalence of sexual violence and the importance of talking with teenagers about healthy relationship behavior. About 1 in 10 teens have been physically or sexually abused on a date. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides a plethora of information for talking with teens about healthy relationships on their website www.HealthFinder.gov.
It is important to talk with teens about what makes a relationship healthy. In a healthy relationship, partners respect one another’s individual lives. They respect the time each other spends with friends and interests outside of the relationship. They communicate with each other and make decisions together in respectful ways. And they settle disagreements in a considerate, supportive, and calm manner.
In an unhealthy relationship, one or both partners strive to monopolize the other and scrutinize their activities. They call and text excessively and complain that the other is not paying enough attention and spending enough time with them. They exhibit inappropriate anger. They may berate the other or make fun of their interests or opinions.
I have seen many teenagers in counseling who struggle in exactly these ways with their dating partners. And, unfortunately, it is not unusual for teens to become violent in their relationships or use threats of self-harm in an effort to control and manipulate their partner.
Teens are at greater risk for being in unhealthy relationships if they have observed violence in their family, if they have had trouble controlling their anger, if they have struggled with their self-esteem, and if they are using drugs or alcohol.
Signs for parents to watch when teens may be violent with dating partners include jealousy, possessiveness, constant texting and calling, constant arguing, and moodiness. Teens who are being abused may make excuses for their partner’s behavior. They may become depressed. Their school performance may deteriorate. They may become easily frustrated and irritable.
It is important for parents to talk with their teens when they are dating, not to cross examine them, but to talk with them about their experience in the relationship, about their feelings, and about any concerns or difficulties they have. Sometimes it’s necessary for parents to point out specific things that are causing concern and to use an approach in talking with their teens that enables them to open up and discuss these concerns with their parents.