Teen Relationship Abuse

teenage abusive relationships

Browse/Download - A parent’s and carer’s guide to violence and abuse in teenage relationships.

What is teenage relationship abuse?

While we think this could never happen to our child, the truth is that teenage relationships are often abusive.  It can happen to boys, but it is more likely to happen to girls. It also happens in same sex relationships.  

Abuse includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse and they can have long-term effects on your child’s mental and physical health. It can lead to depression, drug and alcohol problems and eating disorders. Sexual abuse also has a risk of pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).

Physical abuse can include hitting, kicking, punching, slapping and pushing. Sexual abuse includes pressuring or forcing someone into any sexual activity. Emotional and verbal abuse involves a person:

  • saying things that make them feel small or stupid,
  • checking up on them all the time to find out where they are and who they’re with, or
  • threatening to hurt them or someone close to them including pets.


Mobile phones and computers can be used for abuse such as texting every 10 minutes when they are out with their friends, just to distract them and make them aware that they are always there. Or threatening to send intimate photographs or videos to control them or  to make then have sex.

Warning signs in your child’s partners behaviour

These are signs of controlling or violent behaviour, make sure your child knows what to look for.

If your child’s boyfriend or girlfriend:

  • gets extremely jealous,
  • always wants to know who has texted or called them,
  • gets angry if they don't answer texts or calls straight away,
  • has trouble controlling his or her emotions, particularly anger,
  • stops them seeing or talking with friends and family as much as they’d like,
  • uses force during an argument,
  • blames others for his or her problems or feelings,
  • is verbally abusive, or
  • shows threatening behaviour towards others.


Some girls and boys think their partner gets jealous or checks up on them because they love them. Make sure they know that this behaviour is about making your child behave the way they want.

Some boys might believe that controlling their partners behaviour makes them more of a man. Make sure your child knows that using violence does not make someone a man.

Let your child know you will help them

Tell your child that they can always come to you, no matter what. Victims of abuse can feel ashamed, and believe (wrongly) that the abuse is their fault. Make it clear that being abused is never their fault, and that you will help them if they come to you.

You can also tell them about helplines, such as Childline (0800 11 11) or the NSPCC (0808 800 5000), which they can call if they don’t feel they can talk to you.


Signs that your child may be in an abusive relationship

Signs of abuse can include your child:

  • no longer hanging out with their friends,
  • not doing as well at school or skipping school,
  • constantly checking their phone,
  • being withdrawn and quieter than usual,
  • being angry, and becoming irritable when asked how they are doing,
  • making excuses for their boyfriend or girlfriend,
  • having unexplained scratches or bruises,
  • showing changes in mood or personality, or
  • using drugs or alcohol.


Be aware that some of these can be normal phases of growing up.


What you can do to support your child to have good relationships

Talk to your child about what’s OK and what’s not in a relationship.

Some teenagers believe that violence is ‘just the way things are’, or is ‘just messing around’.  Make sure they understand that violent or controlling behaviour is not OK, and that no one should put up with it.

Talk to boys and girls and let them know they can talk to you if they need to.


How do I talk to my child if I think they are in an abusive relationship?

Keep calm.  Before you talk to them, think through what your concerns are and talk about it confidentially with a friend or the Aspires service who provide free and confidential advice on freephone 0800 121 4043. This will help you to check out your own feelings and thoughts in advance so you won’t be too emotional when you talk to your child.

Think about when to talk to them. Don’t do it when they’ve just walked in the door, or when you’ve had a row. Do it when things are calm, so that it’s not linked to another issue such as them coming home late or drunk.

Find the words. Try saying you'd like to talk. Say you're worried about them and ask if everything's OK. This shows them that it’s OK to talk, and lets them know you’re emotionally available for them. Even if they don’t talk to you at this point, they might go away and think about things, and talk to you later.

Remember that your child may not be the victim if you see controlling or violent behaviour in your child towards their partner you need to talk to someone about how you are going to manage this.

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