Healthy vs. unhealthy relationships

Teens and adults are often unaware of how regularly dating violence occurs, so it is important to get the facts and share them with your teen. Parents also should be alert to warning signs that a teen may be a victim of dating violence, such as:

  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Avoidance of friends and social events
  • Excusing their dating partner's behavior
  • Fearfulness around their dating partner
  • Loss of interest in school or activities that were once enjoyable
  • Suspicious bruises, scratches or other injuries

Teens who are in abusive relationships are at increased risk of long-term consequences, including poor academic performance, binge drinking and suicide attempts. The emotional impact of unhealthy relationships may also be lasting, increasing the likelihood of future unhappy, violent relationships.

The lessons teens learn today about respect, healthy relationships, and what is right or wrong will carry over into their future relationships. Therefore, it's important to talk with your teen about what does and doesn't constitute a healthy relationship.

Responding to behavior

If your teen becomes sexually active — whether you think he or she is ready or not — it may be more important than ever to keep the conversation going. State your feelings openly and honestly. Remind your teen that you expect him or her to take sex and the associated responsibilities seriously.

Stress the importance of safe sex, and make sure your teen understands how to get and use contraception. You might talk about keeping a sexual relationship exclusive, not only as a matter of trust and respect but also to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections. Also set and enforce reasonable boundaries, such as curfews and rules about visits from friends of the opposite sex.

Your teen's doctor can help, too. A routine checkup can give your teen the opportunity to address sexual activity and other behaviors in a supportive, confidential atmosphere — as well as learn about contraception and safe sex. The doctor may also stress the importance of routine human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination, for both girls and boys, to help prevent genital warts as well as cancers of the cervix, anus, mouth and throat, and penis.

Looking ahead

With your support, your teen can emerge into a sexually responsible adult. Be honest and speak from the heart. If your teen doesn't seem interested in what you have to say about sex, say it anyway. He or she is probably listening.

Jul. 23, 2014 See more In-depth