SOMETHING the NSPCC does in secondary schools is to help young people understand the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships.

As they begin to embark upon personal or romantic relationships, it’s important that young people understand that it’s better to be by yourself than with the wrong person. In 2022/23, our Childline service delivered almost 7,500 counselling sessions with children and young people about sex and relationships, where young people needed to talk about issues like sexual thoughts and feelings, consent, puberty and sexual health.

As children grow into adolescence it’s natural for them to become curious about relationships and sex, but peer pressure or other influences could cause premature development that isn’t appropriate for their age. While we understand that a young person may want to fit in with their friends, we also want to ensure that they grow up naturally and don’t feel forced to do something they may later regret.

An unhealthy relationship is one where one party is not being treated with respect. They may be forced into doing things they’re not comfortable with, made to behave in a certain way, to feel they’re not good enough. They may feel anxious, isolated and unable to take charge of their lives. Warning signs of an unhealthy relationship can include social withdrawal, changes in appearance, changes in appetite, or even marks and bruises. A young person may show signs of unexplained suspicious or sexual behaviour that is inappropriate for their age. They may show behaviour that’s upsetting to other children or show sexual interest in adults or children with large age gaps. You may also notice their schoolwork is impacted or their behaviour is out of character and they use force, aggression or pressurise others.

It can be difficult to approach the subject with your child as they may become defensive or upset. It’s vital to avoid blaming or criticising them, and to keep conversations calm and unforced. We have lots of resources on the NSPCC website to help parents approach this topic. Information and advice for children is also available on our Childline website.

It’s important that we talk to children about relationships, sex and consent often and openly. That way, if issues arise it’s more likely the child will be open and honest and seek support. If they do speak to you, remain calm and try to understand their point-of-view. Young people can also speak to Childline online or by calling 0800 1111 to speak to a counsellor..

For more about talking to your child go to