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Wed, May 1, 2013
Love Does Not Hurt
College applications, tweeting and texting, prom, grades, friends, pressure, driver’s licenses, and dating are all things that consume a teen’s life. Many teens are experiencing love for the first time, but unfortunately some teens are also dealing with abusive dating partners.  Some are controlling, violent, and show no equality to their partners. Abuse in teen relationships, like any type of abuse is not limited. It can be seen in same sex relationships, and boys can be abused as well. According to, nearly 1.5 million high school students experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a year.

Physical abuse is not the only type of abuse. Some teens also experience sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and verbal abuse. Although things like controlling who a partner can talk to or what they can do, using jealousy as a sign of love, constantly monitoring social networks, or blaming others for their problems may seem harmless, these are forms of emotional abuse. Subtle forms of abuse are often seen in the beginning, before any physical violence is present. For teens, it can be difficult to see controlling behavior as abusive. It may seem normal.

Control in a relationship is normalized because of the messages we receive through gender socialization. Gender socialization are things we learn through messages about what it means to be male or female. These messages can affect how teens see relationships.  Girls are told things like: all girls love drama, dress sexy to impress guys, girls will backstab you, or you need a guy to protect you. Guys are told things like: be tough to keep the girl, real men don’t cry, or keep her in check. Messages like these are everywhere.

It’s important that we get rid of these stereotypes because if followed, they can lead to abusive relationships. For example, if someone thought it was okay for one partner to keep the other in check, control may seem normal. Additionally, teens receive pressure from peers to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, but little is taught about expectations. Expectations are important because it allows you to know what you want in a partner, and not date someone because they walked through the door. Learning information about expectations should be taught even before dating begins.

Skills for a healthy relationship are imperative in order to foster better teen relationships. That is primary prevention; tackling partner violence before it becomes a problem. It is never too early to teach kids about respect, boundaries, and expressing their feelings. During teen years feelings, emotions, and hormones are high. Teen relationships are intense and should be treated as such.

A major part of those skills are based in communication.  We need to teach about how to achieve a healthy relationship as opposed to how not to be in an abusive relationship. Healthy relationships include independence, autonomy, trust, support, open communication, honesty, responsibility, and respect. This can be achieved in teen relationships. When a teen learns and recognizes these pieces of a healthy relationship, there is a greater chance that expectations will be made and kept.

If a teen is in an abusive relationship, the first person they may go to is a friend. We must also teach teens how to help a friend, provide resources, and talk to a trusted adult. This cannot be under-valued. Often with abusive relationships comes isolation and control. It’s important to educate our children about how to define a healthy relationship and also how to communicate to trusted adults and when to divulge information to adults about their relationships. Particularly in the teen years when romantic relationships are new, foreign, exhilarating, and very hormonal, it can be very important to have open lines of communication with our children well in advance.

Another important aspect our teens must understand is that love doesn’t have to be dramatic and overwhelming to be love. Love can feel simple, sweet, and balanced. Love doesn’t have to be all consuming, exclusionary, and life or death, and if it is, those are real signs that the relationship is unhealthy.

Abuse in teen relationships may not mirror abuse in adult relationships, but the same truth remains: no one deserves to be hurt by their partner. Teens deserve respectful and equal relationships. Teens deserve the best parts of love: respect, autonomy, honesty, equality, and happiness.

If you or anyone you know may be experiencing abuse in their relationship feel free to call Turning Point’s Crisis Hotline open 24/7, 1-586-463-6990.

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Megan Coatley, M.A., BCBA is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and founder of SPARK Behavior Solutions, LLC. Using evidence-based strategies, Megan e...
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