Teaching our kids and teenagers what healthy relationships should look like is not always easy.

Sometimes finding the right opportunity to speak to them can be a real challenge. This is why using TV shows such as Love Island are the perfect opportunity to start a conversation with our teens. 

We talk a lot about how important it is to have a healthy relationship, but we don’t break it down with examples of what that actually looks like.

With so many coercive and abusive behaviours being normalised in relationships, we need to find every hook we can to open up a dialogue with our teens.


What if I can’t stand those TV shows?

By sitting down and watching soaps, dramas or TV reality shows like Love Island, parents and carers have the opportunity to talk to their kids about what is going on in the story lines and the ways the characters are behaving towards each other.

Like it or not, kids as young as 10 years are watching Love Island, long before puberty for some and long before they are emotionally mature.

This is clearly inappropriate TV viewing for kids.

Many young people don’t watch TV but tend towards other platforms to view dramas, so family viewing may not happen so often.

You may really dislike the show, but if the young people in your family are watching it, make this your opportunity to sit together.

 With behaviour such as gaslighting, game-playing and love bombing there are many opportunities to point our coercive and manipulative behaviours to kids.


What sort of things should I be saying or pointing out?

As adults, of course, we understand it’s a game show and not reality, but young people don’t always see it like that, especially as couples sometimes stay together after the show.

Young people can have quite stereotypical views about gender roles in relationships and how people are meant to behave, no matter how they identify. This is further confused when one person in the relationship behaves coercively.

 One study found that 80% of girls would stay with a partner after they had been hit. It is likely this physical assault justified away with a reason. However, the truth is there is never a good reason to hurt or assault anyone.

 In last year’s Love Island there were a couple of people in the competition who behave kindly, respectfully with warmth and consideration. They were great to help draw a contrast with the characters who are ‘grafting’ others.


 5 questions to ask when watching Love Island

  •  How would you feel if someone you really like dropped you and moved on to the next person?
  • Which contestant do you think behaves in the most respectful way?
  • Who shows the most consistent care for the partner in their coupling?
  • How might you respond if you were being pursued by someone in a pushy, full-on way?
  • What do you think about the huge focus on everyone’s bodies?


Why not play a game calling out all the ‘playing’ behaviour.

See who notices the most!


 How do I know if my teen is in a controlling relationship?

First relationships are often so intensely felt – a lot of damage can be done in those short-term relationships, whether a few days or a few weeks. Sadly, you may not even know your young person is even in a relationship and significant harm can be done before you find out and are dealing with the fallout.

Look out for changes in behaviour. A clever way to coerce someone is to plant the idea that their parent or family don’t ‘get’ them like they do, which will manifest in arguments whereby the parent is accused of not understanding them. This is all designed to cause a rift between you and them, making the coercive partner their ‘go to’ person and increasing their dependency on them.

They might want to be with their partner all the time and may seem to spend a lot less time with their friends. This could be considered quite usual in a new relationship but in the context of a coercive one it is a warning sign.

Losing interest or focus in their studies or giving up on school, college or Uni, is a warning sign. Such a sharp turnaround could indicate more than a change of heart.


For young people, if their partner is older, especially two years or more, there is a greater risk of significant abusive behaviour.


 Always question why an older person is interested in a younger partner.


A younger person with less relationship experience will likely be easier to manipulate and control.


Warning signs might include:

  •  They’ve been receiving lots of gifts from their partner – often expensive such as clothes or tech
  • They might not be sleeping well or have increased anxiety
  • They may have become jumpy, nervous or on edge
  • They may be more tearful and appear to be low in mood
  • They start to dress or act differently to their usual self
  • They are distant or withdrawn
  • You might be arguing more with them and they might accuse you of just not understanding? 


These days everyone is super reliant on their phones and their tech.

This makes people incredibly vulnerable to their partners using technology as a way to abuse and control them.

Wherever they are your young person can be tracked by so many Apps on their smartphone.

If they are out with friends, they may need to constantly prove who they are with and what they are up to even live streaming as a way to ensure control.

Their tech can be used so easily to take images – naked pics for example, which are then sent (criminal offence) or videos, which are shared with others. They are also used as leverage to blackmail the victim with exposure and further control them.

Digital stalking, creeping, demanding the sharing of passwords, tracking the phone and cyber-bullying are all forms of abuse that have become more normalised, particularly in young people’s relationships.


Ultimately, don’t put your head in the sand.


Use every opportunity to open up discussions and conversations in a non-confrontational way.

Start them earlier than you think you should because young people are engaging in relationships from as early as primary school.

 Finally, try not to put all their behaviours down to being a ‘typical teenager’ who is full of hormones. They may well be responding to a difficult situation and need your support and guidance even if they aren’t making that clear!

An image from the When Love Bites by Cathy Press
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