Your Teenager's Toxic Relationship Could Affect Their Health Years Down the Line

Toxic teen relationships are associated with a host of negative long-term health issues, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

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As NBC News reported, researchers pored over 38 studies conducted between 2004 and 2022 that centered teens who experienced dating violence. (Most of these studies were conducted in the United States.) Their meta-analysis incorporated different kinds of dating violence, such as cyberbullying and emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.

Across the board, researchers found that teens — especially young women — who dated controlling, toxic partners in adolescence were more likely to start drinking, smoke cigarettes and/or marijuana, develop depression, and engage in “sexual risk behaviors” like unprotected sex.

They were also more likely to date other toxic partners later in life, perpetuating a cycle of intimate partner violence.

It’s important to note that not all teens who have tumultuous high school relationships will develop long-term health issues. Rather, this research highlights how formative adolescent experiences can be — for better or worse.

“Adolescence is a really fundamentally important time where trajectories are set in terms of where young people are going and how they experience the rest of adulthood,” Dr. Richard Chung, an adolescent medicine specialist at Duke Health who was not involved with the study, told NBC News. “Experiences, whether positive or negative, whether helpful or hurtful, during adolescence can have a lot of consequences.”

  • Young women in particular are at risk for intimate partner violence.

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    This is just the latest report to illustrate how young women are an increased risk for dating violence versus their male peers.

    One harrowing February report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that in 2021, about 20 percent of teen girls who were surveyed had experienced violent sexual behavior. More than 10 percent said they had been raped.

    Additionally, a 2019 report from the National Center for Education Statistics found that cyberbullying is on the rise in the U.S. — and young women and girls are being disproportionately targeted.

  • So, how can parents keep their teens safe?

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    These unsettling findings are sure to rattle parents of teenagers. But rest assured, there are steps you can take to educate your children about dating violence.

    First and foremost: Banning your teenager from dating altogether probably won’t go over well. The truth is, teens are going to date and hook up regardless of what their parents say. (That’s why abstinence-only sex education is infamously harmful and ineffective.)

    Instead, your time and energy are better served educating your kids about dating violence. You may want to highlight the warning signs of emotional and physical abuse, including love bombing, jealousy, and being pressured to do things they don’t want to do. And of course, informing them about consent during sex is key.

    “It’s really important to have conversations, not just with girls, but also with boys, in terms of what are normal healthy relationships,” Dr. Anisha Abraham, head of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s National, told NBC News.

    It’s also worth checking in with your teen regularly, and without judgement, about their social and romantic life. Keeping this line of communication open will foster a sense of safety.

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