In the teen years, young people are largely defined by their social relationships. Unfortunately, these relationships aren’t always healthy.

Toxic friendships are one kind of unhealthy relationship. The “mean girl” stereotype is one good example. Teen girls thrive on drama, usually focusing on the school social structure – in fact, it can be a daily issue. Rumors and gossip are rampant in girls’ interactions with one another, and it can often be hard to tell if teen girls are friends or “frenemies.”

Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to change their behavior to gain acceptance in their group of friends. This phenomenon sets up another type of unhealthy relationship or group dynamic. Many teen boys will do whatever it takes to get with the “in” crowd. Sometimes, the behavior is merely disruptive, such as a boy acting like the class clown to get attention. More often, though, boys embrace risk-taking behaviors to look cool or gain favor with their peers. They may experiment with drugs or alcohol to gain popularity or deliberately break rules at school to get negative attention. In extreme cases, this attention-seeking behavior can even result in legal troubles.

Negative influences are bad enough when the friendship is platonic. The problems are even worse when the unhealthy relationship includes romantic attachment.

Sometimes, young love can create powerful feelings of dependence and an almost all-encompassing need to be with that significant other. Unfortunately, these emotions, if left unchecked, can shift to feelings of control and obsession.

Many teens lose themselves when they become part of a couple. They may stop spending time with friends and family to be with their partner. They may lose interest in things that used to be important to them, such as hobbies or sports. Parents may even notice a drop in grades or an increase in new unhealthy behaviors as a result of the new relationship.

Technology makes teen relationships even more immersive. Even when a couple is apart, they may be constantly texting, sharing photos or using FaceTime – this makes it difficult to create healthy separation and to create a balance between the relationship and other aspects of life.

In more serious instances, domestic violence is the issue. According to the Journal of Pediatrics, about two in 10 teen girls say they have been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner, while approximately one in 10 teen boys reports abuse in dating relationships.

By definition, abuse can be physical, emotional or sexual. People are most aware of physical abuse, which includes any form of violence such as hitting, punching, pulling hair and kicking. However, emotional abuse (which often involves teasing, bullying and humiliation) can be more difficult to recognize because it doesn’t leave any visible scars. Threats, intimidation, putdowns and betrayal are all harmful forms of emotional abuse that can hurt a teen for years to come.

Parents need to be vigilant and pay close attention to their teen’s interactions with friends and romantic interests. A little teen angst between friends and partners is normal, but a pattern of unhealthy behaviors is cause for concern. Talk to you teen about her relationships, and be a positive sounding board for her concerns and questions. Most importantly, be ready to step in and provide perspective if your teen is too close to the situation to see the dysfunction in her friendships or romances.

To learn more ways to help if you suspect your teen is involved in an unhealthy relationship, contact Compass Rose Academy today.