Tough Talks: Abuse in Relationships (physical, verbal, emotional)

Teen dating violence — including physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse — is an extremely serious problem in the United States. Statistics show that young adults experience the highest rate of dating violence of any age group. According to’s citation of the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 

Of women surveyed: 69.5 percent reported experiencing intimate partner violence for the first time under the age of 24.

Of teens surveyed: 76 percent report emotional and psychological abuse during relationships.

As these teen dating violence statistics demonstrate, not all abuse is visible. Adolescents can endure psychological trauma in their relationships that often goes undetected by their families. This means that as a parent, it is necessary to have these conversations about what a healthy relationship looks like and what constitutes an unhealthy or even an abusive relationship. Keep reading for more information on ways you can talk to your teen about this difficult topic.


Even if they are single, or appear to be in a healthy and stable relationship, make the effort to talk about teen dating violence before it has the chance to start. It might not be relevant to their current situation, but the information can be useful later on and could help if your teen has a friend experiencing an abusive relationship. Preparing in advance to help them understand the topic before it presents itself in their life is a great way to help them avoid the experience altogether, and to give them the tools to recognize it. The conversations you have early on might be able to help your teen remove themselves from a potentially bad situation before it becomes unhealthy.


The best thing you can do as a parent is to be involved and show your support no matter the circumstances. If your teen opens up about anything in their life, believe them and be there to offer your support. Having conversations about the good and the bad parts of life are vital to building the mutual trust that is required for your teen to be honest with you when they are going through a difficult time. If they are sensitive about the subject, or do not want to talk about it, don’t give up. Instead, try an angle that they are more comfortable with. For example, instead of addressing teen dating violence head on, talk about embracing the other aspects of their life that you know are positive.


Encourage your teen to get involved in something they love outside of their relationship. Activities like art, sports, music, or student government to name a few, are great ways for them to realize the value of other positive things in their lives. Getting involved in their school or community is a great way to help your teen stay grounded and understand that they can choose things that bring them happiness. If extracurricular activities are not really your teen’s thing, encourage them instead to spend more time as a family or remind them to hang out with close friends outside of their relationship.


Talking about tough topics requires research. Be prepared with the most current and updated information on teen dating violence before you have the conversation. Do your research so you know how to assess a healthy versus abusive relationship. Sharing what you have learned through your research will help you explain the facts more clearly and will help your teen better understand the seriousness of the situation. It is important for them to know that this can happen to anyone and that they are not alone. The resources you provide as a parent will help your teen assess their current and future relationships for signs of physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual violence.

How to Recognize Signs of Abuse

Watch out for any significant changes in your teen. For example, if your teen previously spent a lot of time with family and friends, and now often makes excuses for why they cannot come to planned events or do anything without their partner present, then this could be a sign of an unhealthy relationship. Stay attentive to any significant changes in behavior, habits, or appearance. Pay attention to defensive behavior such as a strong need to defend their partner, fear of displeasing their partner, or lack of willingness to discuss any negatives about their relationship.

Potential Solutions

If you notice these signs or anything else you find concerning, talk to your teen about it. If you notice defensive behavior in your conversations about your teen’s relationship, do your best to be sensitive as you address it. The best thing you can do is be supportive and offer your help and any other resources they might need. One useful tool that you can offer is therapy. Suggest that your teen discuss anything that might be bothering them with their school psychologist or a private therapist. Be gentle with your suggestions and let your teen know that this therapy is a confidential place where they can express themselves and gain useful tools to improve their life.

At Tilly’s Life Center, we’re dedicated to the mental health and emotional well-being of our teens. That’s why we offer social and emotional learning workshops, to equip teens with the skills they need to avoid peer pressure, gain confidence, and boost their self-esteem — so they can feel secure in their life and their relationships. To learn more, visit: