Is Your Teen in an Abusive Relationship?

Feb 22, 2023 | Abuse, Helping a Loved One, Relationship Issues

The teenage years bring with them a whirlwind of changes. Alongside the biological changes, teenagers also witness an expansion in their social and emotional landscape. This new phase of life brings an experience that is at once exhilarating and nerve-wracking — the development of romantic interests. 

Most teenagers start to feel the intrigue of dating, which is both healthy and normal. Expressing romantic interests allows them to learn how to risk, and accept rejection. Dating helps teenagers learn to communicate better, to care deeply about and be thoughtful towards another person and develop reciprocal intimacy and trust. 

Navigating the dating landscape is an essential component in learning how to form and sustain mature, healthy relationships, and is a critical part of developing one’s sense of identity. Romantic relationships also demand that we be vulnerable, and this vulnerability can, in some cases, become a reason for our anguish. 

Unfortunately, abuse in teenage romantic relationships is quite prevalent — according to a survey conducted by the CDC, 26% of women and 15% of men reported experiencing abuse in romantic relationships in their teenage years. As a result, it is important to learn to spot the signs of abusive relationships so that you can intervene early.  

What Dating Abuse Looks Like

The abusive nature of a relationship is sometimes apparent, but often the abuse is insidious and does not manifest in perceptible ways. The perpetrators of abuse also often veil their malicious intentions under the guise of care and concern for the wellbeing of their partner. 

A polite, soft-spoken person may in fact be a raging tyrant behind your back, just as a charming and thoughtful person might be unfathomably scathing when you are out of earshot. 

They may be too demanding of your teen’s time, give underhanded compliments on your teen’s attire or body, be excessively critical of their friends, or lose their temper over something trivial. You should consider all of these as red flags since small incidents of abuse can be a precursor to a dangerously abusive relationship.

Signs of an Abusive Relationship

Teens, due to their relative inexperience in the realm of romantic relationships, may not yet be adept at setting healthy boundaries. They might not even comprehend what is happening to them as abuse, or not be aware of how to address such issues. Therefore, as a parent, it becomes important to monitor whether your teen is in a relationship that is healthy and mutually supportive. To ascertain whether the relationship is abusive, you can look for the following signs:

Your teen’s Partner Is Excessively Possessive. If your child is spending too much time with their partner, to the exclusion of other friends and even family, it could indicate that your child’s partner is trying to estrange them from others that your teen holds dear. Even if it is borne out of a desire to be protective, such controlling behavior is extremely unhealthy and detrimental to your teen’s growth. If this behavior is a manifestation of jealousy, then your teen’s partner may even be placing demands on other aspects of your child’s life, such as who they can interact with and what kind of clothing they can wear.

Your Teen Has Unexplained Scars or Injuries. If you start noticing scars, bruising, or other injuries, especially if it coincides with the timing of their relationship, it would be wise to ask your child for an explanation. Teens can be afraid of admitting to being physically abused, or feel protective of their partner to do so. It would be useful to pay attention to the details of their explanation and frankly share with them any discrepancy you find in it. Assure them that you care for their well-being and that they should feel completely safe in sharing anything with you.

Your Teen Is Drastically Changing Their Habits. Teenage years are marked by a heightened sense of curiosity and experimentation. It is natural for teens to try different things and find what aligns best with their interests. However, if your teen has suddenly started to dress differently, has given up hobbies and activities that were meaningful to them, or has adopted a different personality, it could mean that their partner disapproves of their way of being. Such changes could then be understood as your teen’s attempts at gaining their partner’s approval and conforming to the partner’s standards. In this case, your teen may lose their self-esteem and confidence in their personality; the negative impact of this can persist even years down the line.

Your Teen Has a Constant Need to Check-In. A jealous, insecure, or dominating partner may demand that your teen check in with them all the time — they might badger your teen with questions about where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing. If your teen fails to respond to a text or call right away, their partner may try to reach out incessantly. The partner might even get furious and threaten to break off the relationship if your teen doesn’t always respond immediately. Such insistence can be extremely toxic, and if your teen adheres, they might be yielding even more power to their partner.

Your Teen’s Growth Is Undermined by Their Partner. If your teen’s partner does not cherish their goals and instead belittles their aspirations, if they don’t celebrate the victories but always hype up the defeats, this might point to insecurity wherein the partner might feel threatened by your teen’s achievements. Driven by insecurity, they might even try to talk your teen out of their ambitions or actively sabotage their plans. Holding your teen back from their dreams is a form of psychological abuse with far-reaching consequences.

How to Help Your Teen

The realization that your teen is in an abusive relationship might cause you a lot of pain and you might feel rage and resentment against their abusive partner. It might be tempting to demand that your teen break up with their partner, and you might find it justified to take action against the partner yourself. However, these measures could alienate your teen instead of encouraging them to address the real issue. Try these steps first:

Ask questions: Talk to your teen about what this relationship means to them. Ask them how their partner adds value to their life, and what your teen offers in return. Help them think critically about the relationship and how it fits with their life goals.

Avoid being judgmental: If you berate your child for having chosen an abusive partner, or pass harsh judgments about the partner or the relationship, it could make your teen withdraw from you and start hiding things from you. It is best to not let emotions rule the discussion. Allow your teen the safe space to talk about their relationship.

Focus on the behavior, not the person: If you openly blame your teen’s partner for being abusive, your teen might recoil and start defending their partner. To avoid this, talk instead of the behaviors that concern you. Gently point out the behavior that you feel is unhealthy — keeping tabs on your teen all the time, calling too frequently, chiding them for their attire, choosing who they can or cannot spend time with. Putting emphasis on the behavior and not the partner will allow your teen to objectively consider whether their partner’s conduct is inappropriate.

Be supportive: If your teen wants to better understand the nature of their relationship, offer them the resources to do so. Let them know that they could discuss this with the school counselor or call a helpline if they want to maintain anonymity. If your child decides to leave the relationship, help them craft a safety plan — it could involve carrying the phone with them everywhere, involving the school authorities in the matter, avoiding traveling alone, or having a codeword to convey they are in danger. If your teen has experienced physical abuse, it may become important to contact the police and domestic violence authorities to prevent any further abuse.

Seeking Professional Help

If your teen experienced prolonged and severe abuse, the support and guidance of a mental health professional could be immensely beneficial for them. A therapist can help your teen understand what constitutes healthy boundaries and how to establish them in a relationship. Therapy can also provide a structure to your teen’s healing from trauma, and the therapist can provide your child a safe space to express and process their emotions. In addition, therapy can help your teen delve deeper to uncover any beliefs that are not constructive and guide the way to replacing those beliefs with healthy and positive ones. Better awareness of oneself and one’s values can motivate your teen to develop a better understanding of healthy romantic relationships.

New Dimensions Can Help!

If your teenager is struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, New Dimensions can help.  We have intensive outpatient treatment programs for adolescents and adults and have locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas.  To learn more about our services, contact us at 800-685-9796 or visit our website at  You can also access individual and family therapy services through our affiliate MHThrive at  Our individual therapists are available to provide therapy for teens throughout Texas through online therapy.