The Basics: Overview
You can help your teen build strong, respectful relationships. Start by teaching your son or daughter about healthy relationships.
Unfortunately, many teens have relationships that are unhealthy. More than 1 in 10 teens who have been on a date have also been:
- Physically abused (hit, pushed, or slapped) by someone they’ve gone out with
- Sexually abused (kissed, touched, or forced to have sex without wanting to) by someone they’ve dated
You can help your kids:
- Develop skills for healthy and safe relationships
- Set expectations for how they want to be treated
- Recognize when a relationship is unhealthy
Talking about healthy relationships is a great way to show that you are available to listen and answer questions – so make sure to check in often with your teen. Together, you can agree on clear rules about dating to help keep your teen safe.
The Basics: When to Start Talking
How do kids learn about relationships?
Kids learn about relationships from the adults around them. When you taught your child to say “please” and “thank you” as a toddler, you were teaching respect and kindness.
Your own relationships also teach your kids how to treat others. When you treat your kids, partner, and friends in healthy, supportive ways, your kids learn from your choices.
Children learn from unhealthy experiences, too. If they experience violence at home or in the community, they are more likely to be in unhealthy relationships later on.
When should I start talking about dating?
It’s best to start talking about healthy relationships before your child starts dating. Start conversations about what to look for in a romantic partner. For example, you could ask your child:
- How do you want to be treated?
- How do you want to feel about yourself when you are with that person?
The Basics: Healthy Relationships
What makes a relationship healthy?
In a healthy relationship:
- Both people feel respected, supported, and valued
- Both people make decisions together
- Both people have friends and interests outside of the relationship
- The couple settles disagreements with open and honest communication
- There are more good times than bad
What makes a relationship unhealthy?
In an unhealthy relationship:
- One person tries to change the other
- One person makes most or all of the decisions
- One or both people drop friends and interests outside of the relationship
- One or both people yell, threaten, hit, or throw things during arguments
- One person makes fun of the other’s opinions or interests
- One person keeps track of the other all the time by calling, texting, or checking in with friends
- There are more bad times than good
People in unhealthy relationships may make excuses to try to explain away the hurtful parts of the relationship. If you see any of these signs, talk to your teen.
The Basics: Dating Violence
What is dating violence?
Dating violence is when one person in a romantic relationship is abusive to the other person. This includes:
- Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
Abuse can happen in person, online, or with other technology (like cell phones). And it can happen in any relationship, whether it’s an opposite-sex (straight) or same-sex relationship. Find out more about teen dating violence.
Both boys and girls can be unhealthy or unsafe in a relationship. Sometimes, both partners act in unhealthy or unsafe ways. It’s important to talk to all kids about how to have respectful, healthy relationships.
Who is at risk for dating violence?
Dating violence can happen to anyone. Teens may be more at risk of being in unhealthy relationships if they:
- Use alcohol or drugs
- Are depressed
- Have friends who are violent
- Have trouble controlling their anger
- Struggle with learning in school
- Have sex with more than one person
- Have experienced violence at home or in the community
The Basics: Warning Signs
What are the warning signs of dating violence?
It’s common for teens to have mood swings or try out different behaviors. But sudden changes in your teen’s attitude or behavior could mean that something more serious is going on. If you are worried, talk to your teen to find out more.
Show your teen this fact sheet about healthy and unhealthy relationships [PDF - 681 KB].
Watch for signs that your teen’s partner may be violent.
If your teen is in a relationship with someone who uses violence, your teen may:
- Avoid friends, family, and school activities
- Make excuses for a partner’s behavior
- Look uncomfortable or fearful around a partner
- Lose interest in favorite activities
- Get lower grades in school
- Have unexplained injuries, like bruises or scratches
Watch for signs that your teen may be violent.
Teens who use physical, emotional, or sexual violence to control their partners need help to stop. Start a conversation if your teen:
- Is jealous and possessive
- Blames other people for anything that goes wrong
- Damages or ruins a partner’s things
- Wants to control someone else’s decisions
- Constantly texts or calls a partner
- Posts embarrassing information about a partner on websites like Facebook (including sexual information or pictures)
The Basics: Health Effects
Help your teen stay healthy.
Dating violence can have long-term effects for both partners – even after the relationship ends. By helping your teen develop the skills for healthy relationships, you can help prevent these long-term effects of dating violence.
Someone who has experienced dating violence may struggle with:
- Low self-confidence
- Eating disorders
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Other violent relationships
A partner who has been violent may experience:
- Loss of respect from others
- Suspension or expulsion from school
- Trouble with the law
Watch for signs of dating violence and help your teen stay healthy now and in the future.