Talking to Your Teen About Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

The teen years are when your child explores their own romantic relationships. According to, at least one in every ten teens have been either physically abused or forced into some type of sexual action - anywhere from forced kissing or touching to rape. As a parent, you can help protect your teen by teaching him or her about healthy relationships.

The following tips should help you get the discussion started.

Teach your children to respect others. Without realizing it, you have probably been teaching your child about respecting each other from the time they were little by showing them respect and insisting they show their siblings and friends respect. For example, you might insist that your children say "please" and "thank you." You might have your children do chores because families work together. These are all ways we show respect for one another. When your child learns to respect others, he or she also expects respect from others.

Lead by example. Your children learn about relationships by watching you. Your children will model their relationships after yours. If you treat your partner with respect, and he treats you with respect, your children will assume this is the way partners should treat one another. If you remain in an unhealthy relationship, allowing your partner to physically or emotionally abuse you, your children may assume this is accepted behavior.

Talk about what a healthy relationship is. In healthy relationships, both partners respect one another. They are supportive of one another and trust each other. They work through problems with open communication and try to see the other person's point of view. Both partners feel free to spend time with friends, family and exploring interests outside the relationship.

Talk about what an unhealthy relationship is. In an unhealthy relationship, one partner usually tries to control the other. This can be with put-downs, insults, yelling or physical abuse. One partner usually wants to make all the decisions, including what the other partner does with his or her free time, the clothes she wears or who she talks to. There might be an unusually high level of contact, such as constant texting or calling when they are not together. The controlling or abusive partner usually justifies their behavior because his or her "love is so strong." The abused partner also makes up excuses for this type of behavior.

Address jealous behavior. Jealousy is usually an early sign of an unhealthy relationship. While most people become jealous or insecure from time to time, it is never a healthy reaction. In healthy relationships, partners trust one another and do not have the need to spend every minute together or be in constant contact when not together. In a healthy relationship both partners should feel free to spend time with friends and family, without worrying about how the other person will react. Signs of jealousy include constant contact, making the other person feel guilty for being with other friends, getting angry because the other partner talked to someone else, checking emails or texts to see who the other person is contacting. Trust is an important part of healthy relationships.

Physical intimacy should be mutually desired. For any type of physical intimacy, including touching, kissing and sex, both partners should want it and be comfortable with it. No one should be coerced or forced into any level of physical intimacy. Discuss with your teen how to say "no" and what to do if the other partner doesn't respect their answer. Have a plan in place for your teen to contact you immediately if he is she is uncomfortable or in danger. Remind your teen that in many areas of a relationship, compromise is important, however, he or she does not need to compromise when it comes to rejecting physical advances.

Signs Your Teen May Be in an Unhealthy Relationship

The following are some signs that your teen may be in an unhealthy relationship:

  • Withdrawal from friends, family or activities he or she once enjoyed

  • Glancing at partner before voicing opinion

  • Making excuses for a partner's behavior

  • Dropping grades

  • Unexplained injuries

  • Receiving constant texts or calls when he or she is not with her partner

  • Having the partner post embarrassing information about your teen on social media sites

  • Wants to get partner's permission before going out with other friends

Besides these signs, unhealthy relationships can lead to more serious problems, such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, eating disorders or substance abuse. Pay attention to the warning signs and keep communication open between you and your teen. provides an online questions to ask yourself, "Is Your Relationship Healthy?" Tools such as these can help open communication between you and your teen about your concerns.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.