Tips for talking to you teen about relationships

How do you talk to your tween or teen about relationships? And how do you help them recognise red flags of unhealthy relationships?


Many young people have not actually spoken with an adult about how to recognise a romantic relationship as an unhealthy or even abusive one. It’s hard enough for adults to navigate relationships and work out boundaries. It can be even harder for our teenage children. 

Check in with them, be there for them to talk to and listen – telling them what to do doesn’t usually work – you need to problem solve with them and help them find solutions. 

  • Ask if they feel safe with this person, do they ever feel pressured into doing something, or if they feel frightened by them.
  • Remind them, and make sure they know, that it is always ok to say no.
  • If they don’t feel comfortable talking with you, encourage them to check in with another adult, family member, teacher or counsellor. 

Disrespectful and abusive behaviour is never ok – there is no excuse for this kind of behaviour. Family circumstances, past experiences, mental health issues or drug or alcohol misuse are also no excuse for disrespectful or abusive behaviour. 

Five relationship red flags

1. Isolating them from friends and family – Wanting to spend one to one time is all part of being in a relationship, but not at a cost to other relationships with family and friends. 

2. Not respecting their privacy – Wanting access to phones, passwords, and checking messages might again take the guise of caring or showing trust.

3. Monitoring their whereabouts – Checking in may seem like caring and just checking that you’re safe, but constantly messaging and checking your whereabouts is a type of control.

4. Taking and sharing inappropriate pictures – This may seem fine in the context of a safe, loving relationship, but is not ok if the images are then shared inappropriately online with people outside of the relationship and, crucially, without consent.

5. Love bombing – Often at the start of a relationship where it feels very intense and fast-moving. This is more than chocolate and flowers, it’s a concerted effort to lull them into thinking they're in a caring, romantic relationship. 

How to talk to your teenager about their relationships

This can feel difficult, but remember, they don’t need lectures (plus lecturing just doesn’t work with teens!).

  • What’s important to you in a relationship? Good communication? Kindness? Trust? Boundaries?
  • What behaviour lets you know that someone cares about you?
  • How do you want to be treated in a relationship? 
  • How do you feel about yourself when you’re with them?
  • What do your friends think about them and how they treat you?
  • Is there anything about the relationship that makes you feel uncomfortable?

Help them problem-solve potential issues and to explore their options, for example, by considering the pros and cons of the relationship. If they don’t want to talk to you about this, remind them of the other trusted adults around them - family members, family friends; teachers; or a school counsellor that they can talk to. 

The best way to let your children know about healthy relationships is to model this yourself – kids learn from what they see us do rather than what they hear us say. 

  • Show them how you manage conflict in a healthy, respectful and assertive way. 
  • Show them how you regulate your emotions – it’s ok to get angry but it’s not ok to act aggressively. Let them see how you calm yourself by taking a moment to breathe. 
  • Show them how to have boundaries, by saying no and standing up for your own needs when you need to.

It’s hard being a parent or carer and there are different challenges to parenting teenagers. Don’t feel you have to do it on your own – I help parents just like you find ways of strengthening their relationship with their tween or teenage child. 

If this has resonated with you and made you think about your own relationships (with your child and others) why not get in touch and see how I can help?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Seaford, East Sussex, BN25
Written by Jennifer Warwick, MSc Psych, BACP Registered | Counsellor and Parenting Expert
Seaford, East Sussex, BN25

I am a BACP registered counsellor working online. I work with people who struggle to balance work, home and family life. People who are constantly rushing, looking after others over themselves and are exhausted as a result. I specialise in relationships, family issues and parenting teens and tweens. Contact me for an introductory chat by phone.

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