Four tips to talk to teens about unhealthy relationships

By Brittany Farrar on 3rd Feb 2022

It’s February! Love is in the air, and yes, that means Cupid is doing his work among our teenagers, too.

Understanding healthy relationships, learning about boundaries and knowing how to recognize unhealthy situations is all part of growing up. As parents, we want to ensure we are good role models, so our kids can understand healthy relationships – whether romantic or platonic.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, young people can find themselves in a relationship that isn’t ideal. In those cases, having a focused, open-minded conversation with your teens will hopefully encourage them to ask questions and ask for advice. So, if you suspect your child is in an unhealthy relationship, where do you start?

(1) Are you safe? This is important in any kind of relationship, but especially in romantic ones. Ask your teen if they feel safe with their significant other, both physically and emotionally. Talk about the importance of boundaries – not just a sexual consent boundary but also boundaries that could prevent their partner from overpowering other areas of their lives.

(2) Are you still spending time with your friends? We see this all the time and likely even did it ourselves as teens or young adults, prioritizing a significant other over their friends. While it is normal and to be expected, maintaining a sense of self, as well as their own activities and friends, is still important. You don’t want your teen to depend on one person for all social outlets. Help them think through what is important and encourage them to ask your opinion on weekend activities as they relate to friends and significant others.

(3) Do you respect each other? Respect can mean a lot of things, from respecting boundaries to respecting intelligence and decision making. Being friends first and genuinely liking each other are signs of a respectful relationship. Lack of respect on either side of a relationship can be a set up for failure, potentially setting patterns for adulthood.

(4) Is your significant other hurting you? Every parent’s nightmare is their children being involved in an abusive relationship. Even as toddlers, kids are watching our relationships with loved ones. By demonstrating healthy behaviors, you’re showing your teens what a healthy, safe relationship looks like. If you start to suspect your teen is in an abusive relationship (physically or emotionally), provide an open space to discuss it. Ask if their partner is supportive, critical, invasive or nosy. Do they try to keep you away from friends or family? Do they build you up or break you down?

Talking to your kids and keeping an open mind is the most important approach to healthy relationship and keeping up with what is going on their lives. For more information, visit the Child Mind Institute.

Youth Villages is one of the largest providers of services to children in Tennessee and a national leader in children’s mental and behavioral health. The organization has been recognized by the Harvard Business School and U.S. News & World Report and was identified by The White House as one of the nation’s most promising results-oriented nonprofit organizations. Learn more at www.youthvillages.org.

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