School is in session, which means there are plenty of opportunities for teens to develop new relationships. For middle school and high school students, this can be an overwhelming time, full of relationships with roller coaster emotions and peer pressure. It’s important for everyone, especially parents, to know and understand signs and expectations of a healthy relationship, as well as an abusive one.

Here’s a quick snapshot from a helpful tool, called the Relationship Spectrum:

In healthy relationships, you make decisions together and can openly discuss relationship problems. You enjoy time together but can also be happy apart.

In unhealthy relationships, one person tries to make most of the decisions. He or she may try to pressure the partner about sex or refuse to admit hurtful actions. In an unhealthy relationship, you feel like you need to spend time with only your partner.

In abusive relationships, one person is making all decisions – this includes friend groups, sexual choices and boundaries. The abuser’s goal is to have all the power and control. The victim may feel like he or she can’t talk to other people, especially about what’s really happening in the relationship.

Today, a more common form of abuse is digital dating abuse, which is perpetuated through the use of technology, including excessive texting, harassment via social media and pressure to send and receive unwanted sexual photos and messages.

Warning Signs

Look for early warning signs of relationship abuse, such as:

  • Problems with school attendance
  • Lack of interest in former extracurricular activities
  • Isolation from former friends
  • Unexplained bruising or injuries
  • Making excuses or apologizing for partner’s behavior
  • Noticeable change in weight, demeanor or physical appearance

How Can Parents Help?

Trust your instincts. Parents can help by telling their teens that everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship. Start talking early and get to know your teens’ friends in various social groups. Keep in mind that your teen could mistake expressions of “love” when in fact they are warning signs of abuse. Remember to emphasize that your teen isn’t to blame for what’s happening.

If your teen doesn’t want to talk, it doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. Try coming back to the conversation another day. Or, ask if they’re more comfortable speaking with a friend, coach or other trusted adult. It’s important that both boys and girls know what’s acceptable in their relationships. Learn more from our downloadable brochure.

Help Break the Cycle

If you think you’ve seen abuse or have questions, risk being right. Call, text or chat with our Where’s The Line? Information Coordinator. Where’s The Line? is a central Ohio resource for bystanders to safely help victims and recognize warning signs of violence and abuse.

If you are a bystander and witness physical harm, please call 911 immediately.


We offer free community training on digital dating abuse, teen dating abuse and more. To request a free training session, visit the Programs and Services tab on our website,