Abusive and unhealthy relationships are not confined to adults only -- teenagers can also experience dating abuse. An abusive relationship typically shows specific warning signs that are readily apparent and identifiable if you examine the situation. If you fear your teenager is in a potentially harmful relationship with a boyfriend who is hurting her, your teen needs your support and help to stay safe and end the relationship.
Strengthen communication between you and your teen to help your teen feel comfortable and secure in confiding in you, advises the Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships (TEAR) website. Open the door to invite your teen to confide by listening effectively, showing your care and concern, and resisting the urge to judge or criticize.
Explain the features of a positive and healthy relationship and unhealthy relationships to your teenager so she can begin to understand the difference. A healthy relationship involves reciprocal respect between both parties, freedom outside the relationship for other activities, compromising to make decisions, effective communication to resolve conflicts and a predominance of positive times over negative times, advises Auburn University. An unhealthy relationship involves overt control, abusive arguments, isolation, fear tactics and predominantly negative times over positive times. Make it clear to your teen that even a bad relationship usually has some good times and feelings associated with it.
Ask your teenager if anything you’ve just outlined about both healthy and unhealthy relationships seems to apply to her relationship with her boyfriend. Your teenager may feel compelled to confide in you or she may resist. If she confides, validate her feelings and take them seriously. If she resists, don’t force communication -- just continue to be available as a supportive listener and maybe she’ll feel comfortable confiding later.
Encourage your teenager to get some space from her boyfriend to see if she feels happier and safer. This space doesn’t necessarily need to have a designation of “breakup,” but it might give your teen the strength and courage to move in that direction. Space may involve seeing other friends, spending time with family, taking a class or becoming busy with a new hobby or activity.
Monitor the temperature between your daughter and her boyfriend with the introduction of space. It’s possible the boyfriend will feel threatened and angry with this new space. Ask your daughter how things are going. If you hear developments such as the boyfriend threatening harm to himself or your daughter, pressuring a return to the previous status or possible stalking behavior, call local police and a domestic violence hotline number to get help, advises the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center.
Continue to encourage more space between your teen and her boyfriend if the initial change doesn’t result in a dangerous situation. Over time and with your positive support, the hope is that your teenager will realize that she has options outside of staying with an abusive boyfriend. By building your daughter’s confidence about her strengths and value, it’s likely that she’ll see she’s worth more. Seek counseling for your daughter if you have trouble instilling this self-confidence and self-esteem.