Helping Teens Understand Unhealthy Dating Relationships

heartsickness-428103_1280Most adults would agree that the teen years can be a vulnerable period.  Teens juggle the mastery of many tasks during this phase.  One of the most important is developing the tools needed to form healthy partner relationships.  Unfortunately, for many teens, an introduction to unhealthy relationships occurs during this time.  According to the CDC, 1 in 4 teens say they’ve been verbally, physically, emotionally or sexually abused by a dating partner.  And, about 10% of teen students say they’ve been physically hurt by a partner in the past year.  A high percentage of teens experiencing these behaviors do not tell their parents or other significant adults in their lives.

The effects of teen dating violence can be quite severe.  The CDC reports that its victims are more likely to experience eating disorders and depression, do poorly in school, be involved with drug and alcohol use and continue being involved in unhealthy intimate relationships into adulthood.  And, teen girls who suffer from dating violence are more like to have an unintended pregnancy.

Parents, health care providers, and teachers are among those in critical positions to help teens understand what unhealthy relationships look like.  What’s the best approach?  As with any problem, there are many ways to be proactive.  However, making sure teens know what to look out for is an important first step.  Some examples of unhealthy dating behaviors highlighted by the advocacy group, Futures Without Violence, are presented below.  The health and safety of any teen experiencing these behaviors may be in jeopardy.

  • Being hit, slapped, pushed, or kicked
  • Called insulting names or being overly criticized
  • Prevented from engaging with family and friends
  • Being humiliated, either in person or online
  • Experiencing control over where they go, what they wear or what they do
  • Feeling pressured to do participate in sexual acts

There are many measures that adults can take to support teens in developing healthy partner relationships and avoiding unhealthy, potentially harmful ones.  Parents, in particular, are on the front line in addressing this issue with their teens.  Some “common sense” guidelines include:

  • Modeling healthy behaviors in your own partner relationships
  • Promoting the importance of self-respect
  • Communicating to teens that abuse, in any form, is never acceptable
  • Looking for changes in behavior such as moodiness or increased irritability that  teens suffering from an unhealthy partner relationship may exhibit
  • Observing for signs of unhealthy behaviors in a teen’s dating partner and speaking up about your concerns
  • Pointing out examples of unhealthy partner relationship on tv, in the movies, and on social media outlets

If you are concerned that a teen you know is at risk of or is possibly in an unhealthy dating relationship, seeking guidance from a school counselor, health care provider or spiritual advisor can be an important first step.  Online assistance can be obtained from several organizations including Futures Without Violence (  and Love is Respect (  Concerted and proactive efforts are needed to ensure that every young person understands what constitutes an unhealthy dating relationship, feels empowered to resist being in one, and is able to reach out for guidance if they are ever a victim.



Teens, Sex, and Pesky Birth Control Myths


Roughly half of teens who became pregnant hadn’t used birth control, according to a CDC report. Why? Numerous explanations exist, but the fact that many teens believe in myths about birth control and sex is definitely one of them.


Teens, who experience many changes during the transition from childhood to adulthood, may be more likely to believe in myths or misinformation than adults.  Research tells us that the teen brain is not fully developed.  In fact, brain development and maturation aren’t fully realized until about age 25.  This concept helps to explain why the ability of teens to make sound decisions and exercise high degrees of reasoning in their decision-making is often compromised.

As an OB/GYN physician, I understand the challenges of educating sexually active teens about birth control while also confronting prevailing myths that can be dangerous. This article sheds light on five popular myths and offers straight facts that adults can use to educate their teens.

Myth #1:  You won’t get pregnant the first time you have sex.

Fact:  There’s no such thing as a pass for beginners. If a teen girl has unprotected sex near the time she ovulates (releases an egg from her ovary), she can easily become pregnant. It’s possible to become pregnant a few days before, during, and after ovulation. Effective birth control and condom use should always be used to protect against pregnancy and STDs (dual contraception).

Myth #2:  Pregnancy won’t occur if the male partner “pulls out” or withdraws prior to ejaculation or orgasm.

Fact:  Withdrawal is a common birth control method among teens, but is not highly effective. In fact, the failure rate of withdrawal is more than 25%, according to some reports. Pre-ejaculation fluid may contain sperm. And, withdrawal requires a certain amount of self-discipline, which is likely more difficult for teen males than adults.  While withdrawal is better than nothing, its use should be discouraged in favor of dual contraception (effective hormonal or non-hormonal birth control and a condom).

Myth #3:  A girl won’t get pregnant if she has sex during her period.

Fact:  It’s easy to understand why this myth prevails, and it’s true that it’s unlikely for a girl to become pregnant when she’s on her period. Usually ovulation occurs about two weeks prior to the start of a period. However, in some cases bleeding may occur in the absence of ovulation. If a girl has sex during this bleeding and ovulates soon afterward, she could potentially get pregnant since sperm can live in her body for several days. It’s never worth taking a chance that ovulation won’t occur during a bleeding episode.

Myth #4:  The hormones in birth control make you gain weight

Fact: Teens are very image-conscious and it can be difficult to persuade them to use birth control that they think causes weight gain.  Several studies have been done on birth control pills.  While some teens may experience a small increase in weight, most studies show that birth control pills do not cause weight gain when compared to women taking placebo pills (tablets with no medication in them). Nonetheless, concerns about the pill and weight gain are common from my teen patients and adults as well.


The most effective methods of birth control are the IUD (intra-uterine device) and the implant (small rod placed under the skin in the arm).  They are also known as LARCs (Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives).  Weight gain is very unlikely in IUD users and reported to occur in only 6-12% of implant users.  These points are well worth stressing to teens.

Myth #5:  Birth control causes cancer

Fact:  It is important for teens to know that the birth control pill is actually associated with protection against ovarian, uterine and colorectal (large intestine and rectum) cancers. The progestin containing IUD is also associated with a decrease in uterine cancer and may even be prescribed as a risk reduction measure in very obese young females. Uterine cancer risk is also decreased in females who use the depo-provera shot.  Informing teens of these facts can ease their concerns and reluctance to use birth control because they believe the cancer myths.

This article is adapted from Before It’s Too Late, A Parent’s Guide to Teens, Sex, and Sanity by Sheila Overton, M.D., FACOG