Teens & Dysfunctional Relationships

The teenage years are the first time your child experiences a spectrum of adult emotions, including lust and love. Unfortunately, teens don't always have the maturity, self-esteem and communication tools to deal with such adult emotions in their relationships. By talking with your teen and recognizing serious warning signs of a dysfunctional and even dangerous relationship, you can help your teen learn more about the importance of healthful relationships and how to behave in his first exclusive relationship 23.


While a little puppy love might not seem like a big deal to you as a parent, it is important that you watch for signs of a dysfunctional relationship. A relationship without a healthy foundation could lead your teen to lowered self-esteem because of a negative partner, a skewed vision of relationships in general and even your teen being pressured into physical activities she's not comfortable with in order to keep a boyfriend happy 2. What's more, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that teens who are exposed to dating violence have a higher risk for mental health problems later in life 1.

Warning Signs

As a parent, you should be in tune with your teen enough to notice changes in his behavior when he's in a dysfunctional relationship. For instance, isolation from other friends or family activities to only spend time with his girlfriend can raise a red flag. Also, look for your teen making excuses for his partner's bad behavior, looking uncomfortable around his partner, constantly looking for his partner's approval, and changes in grades, friends and interests. This shows an unnatural reliance on his other half, which can be an unhealthy approach to relationships in general.

Healthy Relationships

While an experience with a dysfunctional relationship can be enough to make you want to lock up your teen and deny dating until she's 30, it's not feasible. Instead, you can teach your teen about healthy relationships built upon mutual admiration and respect and equal effort from both parties 2. Talk about sexual pressure and preoccupation and why the best partner is one that allows your teen to be herself, keep her standards and enjoy separate interests. Be a model for healthy relationships in your daily life so your teen can learn from your example and identify when a relationship becomes unhealthy 2.

How to Help

If your teen is in a dysfunctional relationship, choose your words carefully -- simply forbidding him to see a certain person could have him even more determined to stay in the relationship. Instead, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests keeping calm and giving your teen open lines of communication to explain what's happening in his relationship. Talk about why being obsessed with another person is a dangerous idea and how to create a healthier relationship. Let your teen know you're there to listen and express concern about his current path and then give him time to think about his relationship and examine his next steps.