What Parents Need to Know About Their Kids Being in an Abusive Relationship

Teens are subject to dating violence and physical, emotional or verbal abuse. Futures Without Violence, a national organization that works to prevent interpersonal violence, reports that one in three adolescent girls has suffered abuse by a dating partner and one in 10 high-school students has been slapped, hit or hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Yet fewer than one in three teens who are in abusive relationships confide in their parents, and the majority of parents cannot identify warning signs of abuse.

Power and Control

Abuse of an intimate partner is primarily about power and control, according to Break the Cycle, a dating abuse prevention program 1. Dating violence tends to escalate over time as the perpetrator uses abusive behaviors to exert power over and control a dating partner 1. It can include physical abuse, such as hitting, shoving, kicking, biting or using a weapon. Sexual abuse can include rape or coercion. Verbal and emotional abuse may include stalking, threats, insults, humiliation or intimidation. Same-sex partners are also subject to dating violence and abuse.


One of the cardinal signs of an abusive relationship is isolation. The perpetrator often seeks to separate the victim from her friends and family. He may insist on it being “just the two of us.” He will pick fights with her friends or otherwise discourage them from spending time with the victim. He might insist that the victim not tell her parents about the relationship, monitor her emails and phone calls or threaten her if she does not instantly respond to a text message.

Other Signs

Other signs that your child may be in an abusive relationship may be subtle. She may seem quiet and more withdrawn, or she might become angry if you ask how she’s doing. You may notice that she never spends time with her friends, only her boyfriend. If she is experiencing physical abuse, she may have scratches or bruises and make flimsy excuses about what happened. If she is constantly checking her cell phone or email and gets upset when you ask her to turn it off, the perpetrator may be using technology to monitor or harass her.

Health Issues

In addition to the physical and emotional pain from abuse, your child is at risk for a number of health problems. Futures Without Violence reports that teen victims of physical dating violence are more likely to smoke, use drugs, develop eating disorders, engage in risky sexual behaviors or attempt suicide. They may also be more likely to use alcohol at a young age or to become pregnant. If you think your child may be in an abusive relationship, talk to her as soon as possible. If necessary, enlist professional help.