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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Teenagers and abusive relationships

If you're concerned that your teenager is involved in an abusive relationship, there is help available. Find out how to spot the warning signs, and see how best to talk to your teen about abusive relationships.

Abuse in teenage relationships

Abuse is surprisingly common in teenage relationships. In a recent NSPCC study, one out of every three girls interviewed said they’d been sexually assaulted by a boyfriend.

In the same survey, 25 per cent of girls and 18 per cent of boys said they’d been hit or physically attacked by a partner.

Types of abuse teens often deal with

Abuse can take any of the following forms:

Emotional abuse

In teen relationships, emotional abuse is the most common sort of abuse. Emotional abuse includes things such as insults, put-downs or humiliation in front of a teen’s friends.

Verbal abuse

Verbal abuse (yelling, insulting and threatening) also often happens in teen relationships. In a recent survey, 75 per cent of teenage girls interviewed said they’d been verbally abused by their boyfriend.

Controlling behaviour

Controlling behaviour includes monitoring someone else’s phone calls or controlling what they wear. This happens quite often in teen relationships, and can be damaging over time.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse can take many forms including hitting, punching, pushing, biting, kicking or using weapons.

Sexual assault or rape

Physical abuse can also include sexual assault or rape. Sexual assault can include someone being forced or pressured to take part in a sexual activity, including:

  • unwanted touching
  • 'sexting' (texting sexual images)
  • forcing someone to watch or make pornography
  • sexual bullying

Rape is forcing or pressuring another person to have sex when they don't want to.

The warning signs of abuse

Look out for the warning signs that there are problems in your teenager’s relationships.

If they stop hanging out with their friends, that could be an early sign of an abusive relationship. Overly jealous teenagers sometimes try to control their boyfriends or girlfriends by not letting them see close friends. 

Other warning signs that your teenager is in an abusive relationship could include:

  • getting into trouble at school – not going to class, falling grades
  • wearing the same clothes day after day
  • acting depressed, or more quiet than usual
  • becoming angry if you ask how they are
  • trying to hide scratches or bruises
  • making excuses for a boyfriend or girlfriend

What you can do to help your teenager

Talking to your teen can be the best way to find out about their relationship. Even if you’ve seen no signs of abuse, it’s a good idea to chat with them. You can find out what they think makes a healthy relationship, and see what they’re learning from their friends.

More help and advice is available on the links below.

If you think your teen is being abused

If your teen is being abused, they may find it hard to talk about it with you. They may feel ashamed of what’s happened to them or may be afraid of their partner.

Finding the right moment to talk with them is important. You could start by saying you have seen something about teen relationship abuse in the news. Ask them how things are going with their own relationship. Make sure they know that they should not put up with controlling or abusive behaviour.

Tell them they are not to blame if somebody is trying to make them do things they don’t want to do.

If you think your teen is abusing somebody

If you think your teen is hurting their partner, it’s important to talk about the issue with them. Try to help them understand the consequences of abusive, violent and controlling behaviour.

You could explain that abuse will turn them into someone they don’t want to be. Abuse can become a habit, and it can lead to more violence and crime.

Teenagers who abuse can be in denial about their actions, so it’s possible that they won’t see themselves as abusers. Talk to them about the pain they’re causing their partner - teenagers are often shocked by the pain and damage their behaviour can cause.

Where to get help

There are plenty of organisations that can help you or your teenager. These include:

Parentline Plus

Parentline Plus supports and advises parents dealing with complicated issues affecting their children. Call their helpline on 0808 800 2222.

Victim Support

Victim Support offers help to victims of abuse and violence. For help, call 0845 303 0900.


Refuge supports victims of relationship violence. If your teen is being stalked or sexually abused, call their helpline on 0808 2000 247.


Respect offers support for abusers, and an advice line for men and boys who are victims of domestic violence. Call their helpline: 0845 122 8609 or 0808 801 0327.

Broken Rainbow

Broken Rainbow offers support and help for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experiencing domestic violence. Call their helpline: 0300 999 5428.

Rape Crisis

Rape Crisis Centres offer a range of services for women and girls who have been raped or experienced any form of sexual violence. Call their helpline: 0808 802 9999.

Useful contacts

Additional links

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