Q&A: Is My Teen Son in an Unhealthy Relationship?

Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman on how to react when you suspect your child is in a destructive relationship with someone who has a history of abuse.

Q. My 16-year-old son is involved with a very troubled girl his age. She told him she was abused as a child and he seems to think it's his job to help her get over it. I'm afraid he's getting trapped in a destructive relationship. What should I do?

A. Your son wants to be her knight in shining armor—but I don't care how old or mature he is, that's way too much responsibility for any person. You want him to learn that one person can't take away another person's pain.

Start by helping him come up with boundaries—which you should write down. Like, all deep conversations must occur before 10 p.m. (he shouldn't be talking to her until 2 a.m.). Or, she can't stop him from spending time with other friends or threaten herself or the relationship if he does. Second, tell him that you're really proud that he wants to be a support to someone and that the best way to do that is to maintain his own emotional health.

Lastly, if he's obsessed with this girl to the exclusion of his other responsibilities and interests, or is feeling overwhelmed, take him to a therapist who specializes in abuse. He'll need help coming up with an action plan.

Originally published in the July 2009 issue of Family Covers magazine.