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Teenager couple sitting by lake

Couple goals vs toxic love: what is a healthy teenage relationship?

Study tips
Published 21 Oct, 2021  ·  4-minute read

Teenagers in love don’t always have the experience or wisdom to spot red flags or recognise unhealthy patterns. As a parent, you have a subtle yet crucial role in ensuring your teen knows what a healthy relationship looks like.

Romantic relationships are huge developmental milestones for teenagers – ones that tend to come with a lot of emotional ups and downs. But how do they learn the difference between a positive relationship and one that may harm them?

As a parent, you can help your child differentiate between toxic teenage relationships and ones that will benefit them in the long run. This article will assist you to guide your high schooler through how to have a good teen relationship and the signs they need to watch out for.

Are teenage relationships good or bad?

Romantic teenage relationships are impossible to generalise as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for adolescent development. They’re an integral part of a teenager’s social and emotional development. The relationships created during teenage years will prepare your child for adult romantic relationships.

There are both benefits and risks of adolescent relationships, and it’s not unusual for the two to co-exist. Here are a few of the positive outcomes of teenage relationships:

  • sharpened interpersonal skills
  • additional emotional support
  • experience for future relationships
  • identity formation
  • improvement in communication
  • enhanced self-esteem
  • increased feelings of self-worth.

At the same time, potential negative outcomes can be:

  • distraction from schoolwork
  • isolation from friendship circles
  • increased vulnerability to depressive symptoms
  • increased risk of partner violence
  • emotional strain and conflict
  • sexual health risks
  • unplanned pregnancies.

While typically teenage relationships tend to be shorter and involve less intimacy and commitment than relationships in adulthood, they’re still an integral part of an adolescent’s world. Even though some teens will start dating earlier than others, it’s perfectly natural for them to have romantic interests through high school. But the question still remains: how to deal with teenage relationships as a parent?

It might feel like an uncomfortable and foreign concept to be open to the idea of your child dating in high school, but it’s important to remember that it’s a normal and necessary part of any young adult’s growth. Of course, it’s entirely up to you the boundaries and rules you put in place. When it comes to parenting tips for teenage dating, we’ll cover how to give teen relationship advice and set a good example, later in the article.

Two teenage boys laying on grass talking

Signs of toxic teenage relationships

It’s no surprise that teenage relationships are often filled with infatuation, heightened emotions and plenty of ups and downs. One moment they’re in love, the next they aren’t sure whether the relationship will last another day. Watching your child navigate the many complexities of relationships and the emotions attached to them can be tough. But you need to give them enough healthy space and independence so they can learn to navigate multifaceted relationships and shape their future dating standards.

However, if it seems like your teen has more lows than highs with their partner and you’re worried they’re in an unhealthy relationship, these are some of the signs to look out for to identify toxic teenage relationships:

  • Their partner is possessive and shows signs of extreme jealousy.
  • Their partner treats them poorly in front of you or their friends.
  • Their partner has controlling tendencies.
  • Their partner invades your teen’s privacy.
  • Your teen has unexplained injuries.
  • Your teen starts changing their habits or aspects of themselves.
  • Your teen feels the need to check in with their partner frequently.

Unfortunately, recognising the signs of a toxic teenage relationship might be the easy part. Talking about it with your teen and explaining to them that their relationship is unhealthy is the hard part. While it might be tempting to throw around ultimatums such as grounding them or banning them from ever seeing that person again, this usually has the opposite effect and leads to them sneaking around with that person instead.

Try and keep an open dialogue and put in place reasonable limitations such as restricting their phone use and reducing their unsupervised time together. If you suspect your teen is in an emotionally, physically or sexually abusive relationship, seek professional help immediately.

Teenage girl and boy discussing school work

Teaching teens about healthy relationships

Teens often don’t have enough life experience to know how a healthy relationship functions. The best way for teenagers to learn what is a healthy relationship is to see it modelled for them by their parents. When they see how you treat your spouse, friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances with kindness, respect, open communication, loyalty and honesty, they will begin to give and also expect in return these positive characteristics.

Parenting tips for teenage dating

  • Establish reasonable boundaries and rules.
  • Keep open lines of communication.
  • Always meet who they’re dating.
  • Chat about their social media use.
  • Discuss any age gaps in relationships.
  • Talk about consent.

It’s not always going to be easy talking to your teenage daughter or son about relationships. But it won’t take long for you to see the positives of having an open dialogue and setting an example of the type of healthy relationships they should be striving for.

From establishing boundaries to validating feelings, discover more of our top teenage parenting tips by reading our article Advice for parents of teenagers.

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