I'm worried about my teen's relationship
When your young person starts dating, it can be scary for you as a caregiver. You want to make sure they are treated with respect and treating their partner with respect. It can be hard to know.
Though 82% of parents feel confident that they could recognize the signs if their child was experiencing dating abuse, a majority of parents (58%) could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse, and so learning more about dating violence and how to talk to your teen about it is a great starting place.
How do I know if the relationship is healthy or unhealthy?
There are a lot of “red flags” you can keep an eye out for. Are they checking in with their partner too much? Are there unexplained changes in behavior or dress? Or is the relationship getting really serious really fast?
The hard thing about “red flags” is that every relationship is different, and what is healthy in one relationship can be unhealthy in another. Teens may change behavior or dress suddenly because they are experimenting and figuring out who they are. And infatuation isn’t uncommon in first relationships, so getting serious or checking in all the time might be ok!
The best way to find out is to ask your teen how they’re feeling about the relationship.
- Does it feel good, exciting, and fun to be texting so much, or are they scared that if they don’t check in they will upset their partner?
- Do they feel their goals, dreams, and plans for the future are honored by their partner or belittled?
- Do they feel they can decide how they spend their time, with friends, family, sports, clubs, or with their partner, or do they feel their partner decides how they spend their time for them?
- Do they feel they have the right to control where their partner goes or who they talk to, or do they trust their partner and respect their partner’s autonomy?
- Do they call their partner rude names or make accusations about them, or do they show respect for their partner?
- Do they frequently buy flowers or gifts to apologize to their partner?
How do I break the ice?
There are lots of ways to start talking about relationships and how we feel about them. The most important thing is demonstrating that you are a safe, open and supportive person to talk to about relationships! And the sooner you start having these conversations, the easier and more “normal” they will become!
You can start by mentioning relationship dynamics when you see them. When you are watching a movie together, point out the relationship dynamics that are happening – healthy and unhealthy. You can also ask open ended questions like:
“Where do you see healthy relationships in your life? Where do you see unhealthy relationships? What makes it a healthy or unhealthy relationship?”
“Have you ever thought about parts of someone else’s relationship that you’d want in your own relationship? What are they?”
These questions are from 100conversations.org. You can find more examples there!
OK, the relationship seems unhealthy or abusive... What can I do?
If your teen is sharing how they're feeling about the relationship with you, you're on the right track.
Understandably, you may want to set ultimatums or rules to keep your teen from being in the relationship, but this may further isolate your teen and make them feel they can’t talk to you about hard things. If your child is being controlled by their partner, it is important to support them in regaining autonomy.
Try encouraging them to reach out to a teen advocate (someone who helps teens in abusive relationships) and offer to be with them when they make the first call. Ask how you can best support them and keep them safe. See a list of local and National resources, as well as information on safety planning.
You can also continue to talk about what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like. Try taking relationship quizzes together or watching teens talk about their experiences with dating abuse. You can download our Crushin' It zine and work through prompts together. Consider learning about adultism and how this might impact our ability to connect with and support young people in our lives. Check out a Q&A with our educators for an intro to adultism and how we can combat it!
Our educators are in ten local schools!
We're here to help!
We can provide in person or virtual workshops to help equip adults in a child’s life with tools to support teens in their relationships. We cover:
• The dynamics of teen dating violence and recognizing warning signs of unhealthy or abusive relationships
• Ways to talk with young people about their relationships
• Ways to support a young person who is experiencing an abusive relationship
Our educators can present to PTSAs, other parent groups, groups of teens and parents together, and any other group wanting to facilitate important conversations.
Crushin' It educators can also be found in several Seattle middle schools! Please reach out if you would like us to provide workshops with students and/or teachers at YOUR student's school! Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are concerned about your own relationship, please visit New Beginnings' website or call the DVHopeline at 206-373-0242. Advocates are available to provide emotional support and connect callers to needed services 24/7.