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Is My Relationship Healthy? Navigating Teenage Romance

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Trying to find Mr. or Ms. Right is hard at any age. Add teenage angst and emotions to the mix, and you have quite a puzzle. How do you know if your teenager’s romantic relationship is a healthy one? October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so take time this month to talk with your teen about her relationship.
Abuse in relationships isn’t limited to adults. More than 20 percent of American teenage girls report being abused in a relationship. At any age, as a relationship becomes more serious, abuse and violent behaviors will become more and more evident.

“Teens are vulnerable to violence in relationships even more so than adults,” says Daryl Lynch, MD, Section Chief, Adolescent Medicine at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics and Professor of Pediatrics at the UMKC School of Medicine. “While it is often said that kids grow up fast today, most teenagers are emotionally unprepared for handling difficult relationships.”

Warning Signs

Emphasize to your teen the importance of recognizing abusive behavior. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence lists these early warning signs:

  • Calls you hurtful or mean names
  • Controls behavior
  • Demands sex or affection
  • Extreme jealousy
  • Harms animals or children
  • Hypersensitive
  • Limits your time with friends and family
  • Slaps, pushes or hits during an argument
  • Threatens violence
  • Unpredictable mood swings

Dr. Lynch offers these tips to parents who are concerned about their child’s dating relationship:

  • Recognize abusive behavior. Learn the warning signs.
  • Listen to your child. Make every effort to keep communication lines open by listening, sharing and being supportive.
  • Make sure your child understands she doesn’t deserve to be treated this way. It is not your child’s fault.
  • Don’t try to force your child out of the relationship, but do encourage her to recognize the abusive behavior and the need for change.
  • Seek support from school counselors and other community resources.

Good for You

A healthy relationship is one that is good for both people. Developing a friendship first can be part of building a romantic relationship, so make sure your teen moves slowly. When she is ready for romance, offer the following questions to gauge how healthy the relationship is:

  • Do you feel safe and comfortable?
  • Do you spend time with friends and family outside your relationship?
  • Is your privacy respected, and can you spend time alone?
  • Can you express your feelings without fearing your boyfriend’s reactions?
  • Do you laugh, play and have fun with your boyfriend?
  • Do you take responsibility for your own happiness?
  • Do you feel comfortable refusing affection, a date or other activities?

If the answer to those questions is yes, your teen’s relationship is likely a healthy one. The romance will probably still be filled with ups and downs, but rest assured that it’s just normal teenage behavior.

How to Create a Safe Dating World

Teenagers naturally want to push boundaries as they strive to become more independent. Establishing a few basic rules for dating, though, can help establish a safer path to adulthood.

  • Always have your teen let a friend or family member know where she is going.
  • Consider making double-dating a rule for the first few dates in a new relationship.
  • Give your teen a cell phone with access to emergency numbers in the directory, and make sure she has enough money to arrange alternate transportation home.
  • Before your teen leaves for any activity, make sure you know the basics—where she is going, when to expect her home and how she can be reached.
  • Remind your teen to trust her instincts. If she feels uncomfortable, it’s time to leave the situation.

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