7 Signs That Your Teen's Relationship Is Unhealthy

Teenagers cuddling in the grass

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It’s one thing if you don’t like the person your teen is dating, but it’s quite another to realize that your teen is in an unhealthy relationship. Being involved in an unhealthy relationship can take a serious toll on your teen’s mental and physical health, social life, and education.

Young adults who experience violence in a relationship are more likely to drink heavily, smoke marijuana, develop depression, or experience suicidal tendencies. This isn’t a situation limited to young women; teen boys can also fall prey to an unhealthy—or even abusive—relationship. So no matter your teen's gender identity, it’s important to monitor their relationships.

Warning Signs of Unhealthy Relationships

Violence is just one way that abuse manifests in an unhealthy relationship. Your teen could also experience emotional or sexual abuse. If you notice signs that your teen’s relationship may be problematic, it’s important to intervene right away. Be on the lookout for these indicators of an unhealthy relationship.

Your Teen’s Partner Is Possessive

If your child stops spending time with friends and only spends time with a partner, it might be a sign that their partner is trying to isolate them from others. When asked about it, your teen’s partner might say that they think your teen's friends don’t like them, or that the friends are a bad influence.

Even if the teen’s partner is incredibly nice, they might still be controlling to an unhealthy point. Sometimes, teens who are jealous make demands such as a partner no longer use social media or no longer wear certain types of clothing that might attract attention.

Restrictive demands are definite red flags of a dysfunctional relationship.

Your Teen Changes Their Habits

It’s never bad to grow as a person or try to eliminate bad habits. However, it’s not healthy for a person to change who they are for someone else.

If your teen is giving up some of their favorite hobbies, changing the way they dress, or altering their personality, it could be a sign that their partner doesn’t appreciate your teen for who they are. Without appropriate adult intervention, your teen might lose their sense of identity.

Your Teen Has Unexplained Injuries

Unexplained injuries are some of the scariest signs for a parent to witness. If you start to notice bruising or other injuries, ask questions.

Double-check the story to make sure that your teen’s explanations make sense, as your teen might not be entirely truthful at first. A black eye, scratches, or red marks could be definite signs of physical abuse. And quite often, a teen will be too embarrassed, afraid, or protective of their partner to come forward.

Your Teen’s Partner Undermines Their Goals

If your teen has always wanted to make the varsity tennis team or attend an out-of-state university, and their partner belittles those goals, it’s not a good sign. Sometimes, a desperate or dysfunctional teen will try to talk a partner out of achieving their dreams.

Urge your teen to stay true to the goals they have always had for their life and not allow their partner to hold them back. If your teen’s love interest really cares about them, they will want what’s best for them, even when it could strain the relationship.

Your Teen Constantly Checks In

Technology is changing teen romance, and not always in a healthy way. Insecurity and jealousy may lead a teen to demand a partner check in all the time. If your teen doesn’t respond to a text message right away, their partner may call them incessantly.

Smartphones make it easy for teen relationships to become unhealthy, as a partner may insist on constant text message contact or frequent social media updates.

If your teen feels like they have to constantly tell their partner where they are, what they are doing, and who they are with, it’s a bad sign.

Your Teen Apologizes Frequently

Toxic partners tend to have bad tempers. As a result, the other person often walks on eggshells to avoid making the other person mad. Quite often, that means apologizing for everything in an attempt to smooth things over.

If your teen says they are sorry all the time, it could be a sign they are trying to appease their partner. Apologizing for not calling, for calling too late, for spending too much time with friends—all of those things might be indicators that they are afraid of their partner. Obviously, apologies are called for sometimes, but it’s not healthy if your teen is apologizing all the time.

The Relationship Gets Serious Too Fast

While a lot of teen romances seem to blossom overnight, getting too serious too fast could be a sign of trouble. If your teen is talking about being in love after a single date, or talking about getting married after being together for a few weeks, the relationship is moving too fast.

Dating apps and social networking sites give teens the opportunity to connect with others around the world. And sometimes, they may develop a fantasy about running away together—before they’ve even met in person. While it may seem harmless on the surface, such relationships can become obsessive and unhealthy.

How to Protect Your Teen

As a parent, it’s tempting to issue an ultimatum to your teenager such as, “You’re not allowed to date that person anymore,” or, “You’re grounded unless you break up with them,” but that response isn’t the best solution. Trying to end your teen’s relationship may backfire and cause your teen to sneak around and become more resolved to continue the relationship.

Talk to your teen about the behaviors that concern you. Focus on the actions and not the person. Say things like, “It concerns me that your partner insists on knowing where you are throughout the day.”

Avoid bad-mouthing your teen’s partner. Actions like calling the partner a "jerk" may only isolate your teen from you further. And it could prevent your teen from confiding in you in the future. Instead:

  • Be curious about your teen’s relationship: Ask questions about what they gain from the relationship as well as what they offer, while trying not to be overly intrusive.
  • Create dating rules that limit unsupervised contact: Allow your teen’s love interest to come to your home so you can keep tabs on what’s going on. 
  • Provide your teen with positive attention: If they feel close to you, they'll be more open to talking about what's going on when you're not present.
  • Set limits when necessary: For example, limit your teen’s electronics use. Take away the smartphone at a certain hour each day.
  • Talk to your teen about what constitutes a healthy relationship: Healthy communication, mutual respect, trust, and kindness are just a few of the things that should be at the center of a healthy relationship.

If you suspect a relationship is abusive, whether your teen is the victim or the perpetrator, seek professional help. Help your teen learn to develop healthier relationships so they can have better relationships in the future.

If your teen is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Taquette SR, Monteiro DLM. Causes and consequences of adolescent dating violence: a systematic review. J Inj Violence Res. 2019;11(2):137-147. doi:10.5249/jivr.v11i2.1061

  3. National Domestic Violence Hotline. Relationship spectrum.

  4. Nemours Children's Health. Abusive relationships (for teens).

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.