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Codependency In Teens

teenage boy being bullied

Codependency is a clinical term that is not a diagnosable condition. According to Medical News Today it is used to describe a relationship dynamic in which two young people mutually rely on each other to meet their own needs and wants. Codependent relationships can occur between romantic partners, family members, or friends. Codependency is a learned behavior that is often the result of past emotional difficulties and behavioral patterns. Teenagers that form codependent relationships often struggle with a variety of emotional issues that require tending. In order for a codependent relationship to be fostered, both parties must have unmet needs or needs that are met in unhealthy ways, and seek external support to accommodate said needs. Each person in the relationship will develop an unhealthy degree of control over the other as they respectively provide support in the areas of perceived inadequacy. Unfortunately, teenage codependency is a relationship phenomenon that is highly common and can be exceedingly problematic. 


While there are an abundance of signs related to codependency in teenagers, the specific combination of signs exhibited will vary as they will be entirely dependent upon the young person. As Sharon Wegscheider-Curse asserts in Understanding Codependency, “signs of codependency include excessive caretaking, controlling, and preoccupation with people and things outside of ourselves.” Additional signs of codependency include any combination of the following examples:

  • Difficulty identifying one’s own feelings
  • Lacking self-trust
  • Low self-esteem
  • Challenges communicating in a relationship
  • Prioritizing the approval of others
  • Unable to easily make decisions in a relationship
  • Fears of abandonment
  • Being unhealthily dependent and reliant upon relationships, even at the cost of oneself
  • Exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
  • Obsessive need for external approval

Not every teen that exhibits one or more of the above examples is necessarily engaged in a codependent relationship. Most teenagers are working incredibly hard, both consciously and subconsciously, at uncovering their true identity and in some cases navigating codependency can be part of the process.

How To Help

It can be helpful to bear in mind that typically developing adolescents often shift the source of emotional support from family members to friends during their teenage years. In many cases, the relationship boundaries of friendships between adolescents are solely left to the discretion of the teenagers and social norm influences, which could lead to codependency. Modeling and maintaining relationship boundaries with your teen can provide your teen with a subtle, but clear example of healthy parameters in relationships. Although you may no longer be his or her first stop when seeking advice, keep an open line of communication with your teenager. Teenage years are challenging; have empathy. Provide positive feedback and compliments. Help your teen build his or her self-esteem by encouraging independence, trying new things, and creating space for him or her to exercise problem-solving skills. Adolescence is a time that young people must learn to become independent adults, which can be greatly hindered by codependent relationships. Even though codependency is common amongst teens, it can result in damaging effects. Teen codependency can increase levels of anxiety and depression. With proper support, any teenager can successfully break the cycle of codependency. 

For Information and Support 

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at or through our contact form.

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