Is your teen in an abusive relationship?

February 10, 2021 Providence Mental Health Team

Key takeaways: 

  • February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.

  • This month is focused on protecting teens from unhealthy or abusive relationships. 

  •  Dating violence still exists—even during a pandemic. 

  • Stay open to communicating with your teen at all times, without judgment. 


February. It’s the month that’s known for sweet romance and warm valentines. But for some teens, what starts with exciting red hearts may become alarming red flags. And you, as a parent, guardian or friend, may be sensing that something is wrong. 

That’s why February is also Teen Dating Violence and Awareness Month (TDVAM)It’s focused on protecting teens from unhealthy or abusive relationships. This year’s theme for TDVAM is “Know Your Worth.” It centers on the idea that every teen deserves a loving, healthy relationship—starting with self-empowerment and knowing his or her value as a human being 

The facts about teen dating violence  

The grim reality of teen dating violence is seen in the estimated one in 10 teens who will experience dating violence. Across the nation, young people ages 12 to 19 suffer the highest rates of rape and sexual assault. Studies also show that about 10% of teens report being victims of physical violence by an intimate partner during the previous year.  

To get teens to see themselves in a healthy light, it’s important for them to know the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship. 

Girls are especially likely to face violence in their relationships and are more likely to struggle with long-term behavioral and health consequences. These include eating disordersdrug use and suicide attempts.  

Signs of an unhealthy teen dating relationship  

To get teens to see themselves in a healthy light, it’s important for them to know the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship. Help teach your teen to identify abuse on their own so they can ask for help when they need it. For many teens, it may be hard to determine if their relationship is unhealthy until it’s too late. On the flip side, it’s never too early to begin the conversation once they start dating. And discussing the following abusive behaviors can help make all the difference in how they deal with any potential dating violence. 

  • Physical violence such as kicking, hitting and pushing  

  • Sexual violence, such as forcing a partner to take part in a sex act   

  • Psychological abuse that may include insulting, name-calling and threatening 

  • Stalking, which could mean repeated threatening phone calls or showing up at places without being asked or wanted 

Teen dating violence doesn’t just involve in-person behaviors. It can also happen electronically through texting or posting sexual images of a partner online without permission—something to keep in mind even while teens are socially distant because of the pandemic.  

“Dating looks different during the pandemic—but dating violence still exists,” says Robin Henderson, PsyD, chief executive of Behavioral Health for Providence Oregon. “Look for signs of controlling behavior, including restricting access to other friends, controlling behaviors and negative messages. All these are signs of an unhealthy relationship, even if they are primarily online.”  

When you care about a teen who may be in a violent dating relationship 

One of the key points made by a teen panelist in a podcast hosted by Robin Henderson was not to judge a friend who’s in a violent dating relationship. This is wisdom that can go a long way for parents as well. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you navigate the conversational waters about your teen’s dating relationship: 

  • Stay open to communication in all its forms and listen without judging, being defensive or making demands.  

  • Reach out to reliable community resources. 

  • Start a conversation by asking questions such as: 

  • What do you think makes a relationship healthy? 

  • What would you do if you were being abused? 

  • What would you consider abuse? 

  • How would you feel if someone was abusing you or a friend? 

  • How would you help a friend who was in a violent relationship? 

  • Why is being in a relationship important to you? 

  • If you suspect abuse, take your child seriously and don’t make light of the relationship because of the child’s age. You want your teen to trust you. 

  • Remind your teen that she or he is a valuable person, and no one deserves to be abused. 

  • Help develop a safety plan. Ending a relationship is a dangerous time and having a plan in place can make all the difference in the outcome. 

  • Document instances of abuse you see or learn about from your child. 


Helping teens know their worth in daily life—and in dating 

There are a few basic elements in most healthy relationships: mutual respect, communication, support and boundaries. When teens take to heart that they deserve a loving relationship, they’ll have the knowledge—and most importantly the sense of self-worth—to enjoy it. 

What a healthy relationship looks like 

  • Making decisions together  

  • Openly discussing relationship problems and sexual choices 

  • Enjoying time together 

  • Being happy spending time apart  

Setting and respecting boundaries  

Healthy boundaries mean both partners feel comfortable saying what they wantdiscussing their goals, wants and limits and knowing their requests will be honored. There’s no fear about how the other person will respond or retaliate. 

A word about consent 

Consent can be described as an ongoing mutual agreement between both partners about what they want to experience. It’s not just about agreeing to physical or sexual actions with a partner though. It has just as much to do with the decisions that drive your actions. It’s about ongoing communication and a clear “yes.” If a partner is silent, seems unsure or says “maybe,” that’s clearly not a “yes.” In that case, more discussion should be welcomed by both partners. 

Get vital dating violence tools and tips  

If you have or know a teen who’s in a violent dating relationship, you can play a major role in supporting your young person. You can help the teen feel worthy and gain the confidence to leave an abusive relationship. Teen Dating Violence and Prevention Awareness Month offers tools and tips that can help you see a teen through to safety and wholeness.  


Are you taking part in Teen Dating Violence and Prevention Awareness Month? Tell us how @providence. 


Find a doctor 

Our behavioral health experts offer virtual and in-person consultations to bring you convenient, confidential mental healthcare options. With Providence Express Care Virtual, you can access a full range of healthcare services. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory or search for one in your area. 



Related resources 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions. 

About the Author

Whether it's stress, anxiety, dementia, addiction or any number of life events that impede our ability to function, mental health is a topic that impacts nearly everyone. The Providence Mental Health Team is committed to offering every-day tips and clinical advice to help you and your loved ones navigate mental health conditions.

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