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Abusive Teen Relationships

by Dore Frances, M.A., founder of Horizon Family Solutions, LLC
(This article is based on a true story and client of Horizon Family Solutions.)

The names have been changed as "Megan" is in a program that deals with this specific type of intervention. Horizon Family Solutions and this undisclosed program specialize in working together to assist these teens before the situation becomes dangerous or even deadly. "Megan" is being counseled, protected and now has the opportunity to reflect on how damaging this relationship has been to her well-being and the safety of her family. The name and type of program cannot be disclosed as it would jeopardize the safety of other students in the future.)

When Megan began dating Nate, all of her friends were envious. Nate was athletic, funny, sensitive, smart, and very good-looking.

For the first couple of months, Megan seemed very happy. She started to miss her friends and family, though, because she was spending more and more time with Nate and his friends and less time with everyone else she knew.

That actually seemed easier than dealing with Nate's endless questions and calls as well as late night texting.

Nate worried about what Megan was doing at every moment of the day and night every day of the week.

Megan's family and friends became concerned when her attitude and behavior started to change. She lost interest in the things she once enjoyed, like softball meets and going to the mall and to the movies.

She became moody and secretive.

When her family and friends asked Megan if she was having trouble with Nate, she denied that anything was wrong. What was going on?

Read more to find out how to tell if you, a friend or your teen is being abused in an unhealthy relationship and what you can do about it.

What Is Abuse?

Everyone has heard the songs about how much love can hurt. However, that doesn't mean emotional, physical or psychological harm: Someone who loves you should never abuse you in any way. Healthy relationships involve consideration, respect and trust for the other person. Unfortunately, though, lots of teen relationships turn abusive, just like this one with Megan and Nate.

In fact, 1 in 11 high school students report being physically hurt by a date. Abuse can oftentimes be mistaken for intense feelings of caring or concern or "teen love". It can even seem flattering at first. Think of a friend or teen you know whose boyfriend or girlfriend is insanely jealous and over protective: Maybe it seems like your friend's partner really cares about them.

Actually, controlling behavior and excessive jealousy are not signs of affection at all. Love involves respect and trust; it doesn't mean constantly worrying about the possible ending of the relationship or feeling jealous of their family or friends. Abuse can be emotional, physical or sexual. Hitting, kicking, slapping, pulling on or pushing someone enough to make a bruise are forms of physical abuse that can occur in both teen romances and friendships.

Emotional abuse (stuff like bullying, teasing and humiliating others) is difficult to recognize because it doesn't leave any visible scars. Intimidation, putdowns, threats, and betrayal are all harmful forms of emotional abuse that can really hurt - not just during the time it's happening. Long after too. Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, guy or girl. It's never right to be forced into any type of sexual experience that you don't want.The first step in getting your teen out of an abusive relationship is to assist them in realizing that they have the right to be treated with respect and not be emotionally or physically harmed by another person.

Signs of an Abusive Relationships

Important warning signs that your teen may be involved in an abusive relationship include when someone:

  • harms them physically in any way, including kicking, pushing, grabbing, shaking, slapping, smacking, and punching
  • tries to control different aspects of their life, such as how they dress, who they can or cannot hang out with, and even what they say when around others
  • frequently humiliates them or makes them feel unworthy (for example, when they put them down and then in the same breath tells them that the love them more than life itself)
  • coerces or threatens to harm them, or self-harm, if the person leaves the relationship, they will just "die"
  • twists the truth to make them feel they are to blame for their actions, and makes them feel responsible every time something goes wrong
  • demands to know where they are and who they are with and what they are talking about and who they are seeing and what they are doing at all times day and night, every day of the week
  • constantly becomes angry and/or jealous when they want to spend time with their family and/or friends
Unwanted sexual advances that make your teen uncomfortable are also red flags that the relationship needs to focus more on respect. When Nate said to Megan stuff like "If you loved me, you would . . . " that was also a warning sign of abuse.

A statement like this is controlling and is used by people who are only concerned about getting what they want - not caring about what the person they care about wants. As a parent, trust your gut and your intuition. When something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.

  • Signs That Your Teen Is Being Abused

    In addition to the signs listed above, all of which Megan experienced with Nate, here are some other signs your teen might be being abused in their dating relationship:

    • unexplained broken bones, bruises, marks or sprains
    • excessive guilt or shame for no apparent reason
    • secrecy or withdrawal from friends and family avoidance of school or social events with excuses that don't seem to make any sense
    • A person who is being abused needs someone to hear and believe them. Maybe your teen is afraid to tell you because that will bring pressure to end the relationship.
    Nate threatened Megan to never let this happen.

    Teens who are abused often feel like it's their fault - that they "asked for it" or that they don't deserve any better. Abuse is never deserved. Help your teen understand that it is not their fault. They are not a bad person. The person who is being abusive has a serious problem. The teen being abused needs immediate professional help where they can feel safe and be removed from the current situation.

    A teen who is being abused needs your assistance, love, patience, and understanding. Your teen also needs your encouragement as taking these steps is not easy, and it may not even be what they want to do based on the threats they have been receiving. You have to make the needed steps to get them to safety. You need to take charge and get help immediately from a professional.

    Most of all, your teen needs you to listen without judging. Megan did not admit to the abuse until after she was removed from the situation. She was just too scared to say anything for fear of retaliation against her or her family. It takes a lot of courage to admit being abused; let your teen know that you're offering your full support and you are going to get them help. You will listen when they are ready, and in the meantime, you are gong to get them to safety.

    Ending abuse and violence in teen relationships is not easy, however, there are plenty of people ready to help.

    Horizon Family Solutions and the program we network with have professionally trained staff to listen, understand, and help. Abuse has no place in love.

  • Dore Frances, M.A., is an educational consultant, childs right advocate, parent coach, specializing in working with troubled teens and their families in the United States, Canda, and abroad. See her site at: or contact her by phone at:(541) 312-4422, or email
    See our listing on ISER.COM

    Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.
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