Healthy Relationships

During adolescence, young people learn how to form safe and healthy relationships with friends, parents, teachers, and romantic partners. Both boys and girls often try on different identities and roles during this time, and relationships contribute to their development. Peers, in particular, play a big role in identity formation, but relationships with caring adults – including parents, mentors or coaches – are also important for adolescent development. Often, the parent-adolescent relationship is the one relationship that informs how a young person handles other relationships. Unfortunately, adolescents sometimes develop unhealthy relationships, and experience or exhibit bullying or dating violence.

Dating Violence

Some adolescents get involved in unhealthy dating relationships. One in 10 adolescents reported being hit or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend at least once in the previous year.[1] Controlling and demanding behaviors often happen before violence occurs. For example, one partner may tell another what to wear and who to spend time with.[2] Over time, controlling and demanding behavior may become increasingly violent and that violence can have negative effects on physical and mental health throughout life (including lower self-esteem, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts).[3],[4],[5] Adults can help by paying attention and talking to adolescents about how to build healthy, respectful relationships.[6]


Among adolescents ages 18-19, just under eight percent of females and just under three percent of males identify as homosexual or bisexual.[7] Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adolescents are happy and thrive during their teenage years. As a group they are more likely than their heterosexual peers to experience difficulties: LGBT adolescents are at increased risk for suicide attempts, being homeless, alcohol use, and risky sex.[8],[9] Parental response to their LGBT adolescent can have a tremendous impact on the child’s current and future mental and physical health. Supportive reactions can help adolescents cope and thrive.[9],[10],[11],[12]


Bullying is a serious problem, but it can be prevented or stopped when those involved know how to address it. Many adolescents have experienced bullying, whether they were bullied, bullied someone else, or saw someone being bullied. Although definitions vary, bullying usually involves an imbalance of power, an intent to hurt, and repetition of the behavior. Adolescents who bully use their power to control or harm, and those being bullied sometimes feel powerless to defend themselves. Many schools and communities have anti-bullying initiatives in place; new resources are being developed by the federal government and other institutions to help adolescents, parents, and others understand bullying and cyberbullying.


Friendships play a major role in the lives of adolescents.[13] A circle of caring and supportive friends can help adolescents transition to adulthood.[14] Parents, teachers, and other adult role models can help young people learn how to make and keep good friends.[15] Still, forming and maintaining friendships during adolescence can be challenging. Peer pressure – good and bad – often affects decisions young people make.[15] Adults can set good examples, teach interpersonal skills, and help adolescents nurture positive friendships. One important lesson is that friends can say "no" to each other and remain friends.[16]

Footnotes »

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2015.Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 65(6). Retrieved June 30, 2016, from .
Break the Cycle.Warning Signs. Retrieved June 30, 2016, from .
Banyard, V.L., Cross, C. (2008). Consequences of teen dating violence: Understanding intervening variables in ecological context.Violence Against Women, 14(9), 998–1013. .
Ackard, D.M., Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2002). Date violence and date rape among adolescents: Associations with disordered eating behaviors and psychological health.Child Abuse and Neglect, 26, 455–473.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2006). Physical dating violence among high school students — United States, 2003.Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 55, 532–535. Retrieved June 30, 2016, from .
Break the Cycle.A parent's guide to teen dating violence. Retrieved June 30,2016, from
Chandra, A., Mosher, W. D., Copen, C., & Sionean, C. (2011).Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual identity in the United States: Data from the 2006–2008 National Survey of Family Growth: (Table 12 and Table 13). National Center for Health Statistics, 36. Retrieved June 30, 2016, from
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Sexual identity, sex of sexual contacts, and health-risk behaviors among students in grades 9–12 — Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, selected sites, United States, 2001–2009. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 60(SS07). Retrieved June 30, 2016, from
Coker, T.R., Austin, S.B., Schuster, M.A. (2010). The health and health care of lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents.Annual Review of Public Health, 31, 457–477.
Espelage, D.L., Aragon, S.R., Birkett, M. (2008). Homophobic teasing, psychological outcomes, and sexual orientation among high school students: What influence do parents and schools have? School Psychology Review, 37, 202–216. .
Ryan, C., Huebner, D., Diaz, R.M., Sanchez, J. (2009). Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in white and Latino lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults.Pediatrics, 123, 346–352. .
Bouris, A., Guilamo-Ramos, Pickard, A., Shiu, C., Loosier, P.S., Dittus, P., Gloppen, K., Waldmiller, J.M. (2010). A systematic review of parental influences on the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth: Time for a new public health research and practice agenda. Journal of Primary Prevention, 31, 273–309.
Vaquera, E., Kao, G. (2008). Do you like me as much as I like you? Friendship reciprocity and its effects on school outcomes among adolescents. Social Science Research, 37(1), 55–72.
Jellinek, M., Patel, B., Froehle, M. (2002). Bright futures in practice: Mental health — Volume I. Practice guide. Retrieved June 30,2016, from
Spelling, M. (2005).Helping your child through early adolescence. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Communications and Outreach. Retrieved June 30, 2016, from
The Cool Spot.Peer Pressure.Retrieved June 30, 2016, from
Last updated: September 23, 2016