Recognizing Toxic Teen Dating Behaviors and Helping Teens Build Healthy Relationships

Dating violence affects millions of teens and young adults each year, and unhealthy relationships can cause problems that linger long after a relationship ends.

These problems can include difficulty keeping up with schoolwork, low self-esteem, and trouble developing healthy relationships with family, friends, or future partners.

We can help address teen dating violence by educating teens and young adults on what to avoid in a partner and by teaching how one should be treated in a healthy relationship.

In new relationships, signs of potentially unhealthy or abusive behavior can be subtle, like snide/cruel remarks or episodic disrespectful behavior; it can be easy for teens to dismiss such things as “not the norm” or “out of character.”

However, these actions can be warning signs that may escalate into more abusive behavior in the future.

Identifying potential red flags in a relationship

While all relationships are different, there are certain behaviors that can be causes for concern.

Examples include:

  • Overly jealous or possessive behaviors, including demanding to know where a partner is at all times or limiting who a partner can spend time with
  • Self-centeredness
  • Pressure to rapidly evolve the relationship or progress the relationship more quickly
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Dismissing a partner’s feelings, opinions, or concerns
  • Manipulative or “gaslighting” behavior
  • Antiquated beliefs about gender roles in a relationship

Problems with violence in teen relationships

Statistics from the CDC show that physical and sexual violence are all too common in teen relationships:

  • 1 in 12 experienced some kind of physical dating violence in the past year
  • 1 in 12 experienced sexual dating violence

Violent actions in a toxic relationship may include pushing, hitting, non-consensual sexual engagements, verbal abuse, and stalking.

Violence of any kind in a relationship is not okay, and it’s important to remember that violence is not the victim’s fault.

If you experience any type of physical or sexual violence in a relationship, report the abuse through the proper channels. 

If you feel unsafe in your current living situation, consider speaking to a trusted adult or using resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline for support.

How to prevent toxic teen relationships

The best way to prevent violence in teen relationships is to model healthy relationship behaviors and to teach teens how to communicate in a healthy way.

This goes a long way toward preventing violent or toxic behaviors, and also gives teens the understanding they need to identify potentially toxic behaviors in future relationships.

Other prevention measures include:

  • Engaging teens in conversations about domestic violence and abuse prevention.
  • Teaching safe, healthy relationship skills to all teens.
  • Creating safe environments for teens to seek help or advice about relationships.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or the National Teen Dating Abuse Help Line at 866-331-8453.

This blog was written by the South Shore Health Trauma Program Injury Prevention Team and supported by Olivia Kelley, senior undergraduate Public Health student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Learn more about our Injury Prevention Program.