Written by Betsy Abraham, Community Support Services

Have you had “the talk” with your teen yet? You know, the one about dating and relationships? We get it—talking to your teen about their love life can get awkward. But having conversations about what’s healthy in a romantic relationship is critical, especially as teenagers start navigating romance for the first time. 

Early education is a big part of Mecklenburg County’s strategy to prevent domestic violence. That’s why we visit schools and communities year-round to help teens learn about healthy relationships. But as a parent, guardian or community leader, your role is valuable. 

Lay the Foundation

Whether your child has been dating for a while or is still in the “cooties” phase, speaking about dating can lay the foundation for what’s okay in a relationship. That guidance can make a big difference—stats show that one in three teens will experience dating abuse, with nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experiencing physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. And not only is abuse happening, it often doesn’t get reported. Only a third of teens in an abusive relationship ever tell anyone about the abuse. 

So how do you help a teen understand what abuse is? And what do you do if someone comes to you about an abusive boyfriend or girlfriend?

Red Flags in Dating

Eight-two percent of parents felt like they would know if their child was experiencing dating abuse.

LOVEISRESPECT.ORG

But most don’t know the warning signs. Make sure you know the red flags of an abusive relationship so you and your child are more likely to know if something is off: 

  • Checking your phone without permission
  • Ignoring physical boundaries
  • Controlling your time, money, and looks
  • Extreme jealousy or insecurity
  • Taunting or bullying

Dating Abuse Is…

An abusive relationship doesn’t always show up in the form of cuts and bruises. Most abuse starts with the emotional (belittling or gaslighting, for example) before escalating into physical violence. Sometimes dating violence is:

Emotional: Demeaning, making a partner feel guilty about spending time with friends/family, threatening to harm them, or stalking.

Sexual: Unwanted kissing or touching, forcing a partner to have sex, threatening to out a partner if they don’t comply.

Digital: Checking a partner’s location via apps, monitoring a partner’s social platforms, using guilt, force, or threats to convince a partner to sext, or harassing a partner with repeated phone calls or text messages.

Physical: Physically restraining a partner, hitting them, or throwing things at them.

Just Start Talking

While forbidding your teen from ever dating might sound tempting, it’s not realistic. So talk to your child about healthy relationships and teach them how to spot warning signs. Not sure where to start? 

Ask questions

  • What do you look for in a dating partner?
  • What do you think a healthy relationship is?
  • How do you know if it’s time to end a relationship?

Point out what a healthy relationship looks like
Every relationship should have a foundation of respect, equality, trust, and safety. Explain to your teen that if one of these aspects is missing, it might be a red flag that something is wrong.

Listen with empathy
Approach conversations with curiosity, not judgment. Just knowing you’re there to listen and support can make a huge difference in the life of your teen. If they demonstrate a concern or alarming behavior, guide them to resources and professional support.

Help them understand what abuse looks like
Teens may not understand the different forms of abuse. So talk to them about the types and the warning signs to look out for. If they show worrisome behavior, ask open and strategic questions.

You’re Not Alone

If your teen is in an abusive relationship or showing signs of being abusive toward their partner, here’s help:

Mecklenburg County Community Support Services: Prevention and Intervention Services
Free counseling for teens in an abusive relationship or who are showing signs of being abusive.
Love Is Respect
Resources for teens who want to know more about healthy dating relationships, including how to find help if they’re in an abusive situation. Plus, a parent discussion guide.
Teens for Courage
An initiative of the Jamie Kimble Foundation that aims to prevent teen dating violence through education and awareness.
LGBT National Help Center
Free and confidential peer support and resources for young people in the LGBT community
Your Life Your Voice
24-hour teen crisis hotline and web site where teens can get advice.
The Trevor Project
Free and confidential crisis support services for LGBTQ teens 24/7.