Popular Book Series and Film, “After”, Glorifies Unhealthy Relationship Dynamics

After was first published in 2013, one chapter at a time, by author Anna Todd on a platform called WattPad. Wattpad is a free, Toronto-based digital reading site which gives its 40 million+ users the ability to read and self-publish. The five-book series has since been published in 29 countries and read over a billion times.

Todd is a super fan of boy band One Direction. After reimagines One Direction’s singer, Harry Styles (in both the book and film, this character is named Hardin Scott), as a “bad boy” college student who develops a romantic relationship with Tessa Young.

The series has been compared to Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight, both of which are in the fanfiction genre – commonly referred to as “fanfic” – and highlight unhealthy relationships between the male and female lead characters.

After was made into a film and released in theaters on April 12, 2019. The official trailer had over 33 million views on YouTube in under 30 days.

In short, After is a typical unlikely romance. Tessa is a sheltered college freshman who is content with her high school sweetheart boyfriend back home. She is introduced to Hardin in college, who we can describe as a “bad boy” with a short fuse – the polar opposite of Tessa. Hardin is persistent about maintaining contact with Tessa, after she expresses several times that she thinks it’s better if they keep their distance. Then begins the fast-paced love affair.

It’s important to know that After is geared toward a younger, primarily female audience. We know that these genres often showcase possessive behaviors in relationships. There are several instances of physical violence, manipulation and mind games. A concern is that the teen target audience may view these behaviors as normal, even desirable, in an intimate partnership.

Teens and young adults need to know that using power and control isn’t acceptable in a relationship. Let’s take a closer look at Hardin’s repeated behaviors:

Breaking/Damaging Possessions
Hardin is described by his friend as “complicated,” which viewers later learn includes Hardin having several violent outbursts. In the movie trailer, viewers can see Hardin picking up a guitar and smashing it against the book case on the wall. Damaging property (whether his own or someone else’s) is unacceptable, and is often used as a form of intimidation. Talk with kids about examples of violent behaviors, and let them know they can always come to you or another trusted adult if something dangerous happens. Most importantly, if they are involved in an unsafe situation, encourage them to call 911 or download free safety apps on their phones. Apps like OneLove My Plan and Circle of 6 are designed to keep young adults safe and give them peace of mind. Learn more about free safety apps here: https://wherestheline.info/free-safety-apps-for-teens/.

Refusing to Acknowledge Boundaries
The two main characters meet when Hardin refuses to leave Tessa’s room in her residence hall after she gets out of the shower. At this point, they are not in a relationship but he’s already crossed a boundary by saying that he will not leave until his demands are met. This creates unhealthy relationship dynamics from the very beginning, and some argue that the relationship grows more toxic throughout the film. We recommend educating teens about LoveIsRespect. LoveIsRespect.org has great tips about relationships, the ability for teens to chat with a trained advocate, and blog articles that go in-depth about dating, consent and boundaries. Take a look at the “Helping Your Teen Set Boundaries” blog, and pick a few talking points to discuss: https://www.loveisrespect.org/content/helping-your-teen-set-boundaries/.

Emotional Manipulation
The film begins with Hardin being condescending and rude to Tessa – this can be referred to as negging – which can be a form of abuse. Negging is an act of emotional manipulation where a person makes deliberate backhanded compliments or otherwise flirtatious remarks to another person, to undermine confidence and increase the victim’s need of the manipulator’s approval. Hardin continues this behavior by arguing with Tessa over books in class and talking down to her every chance he gets. The audience will see that Tessa complains about this ongoing behavior. However, the film perpetuates the unfortunate and dangerous idea that women want to be treated poorly.

We know that this topic can be a little uncomfortable to discuss, but teens need to know that power and control shouldn’t be normalized or expected in intimate relationships. The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence breaks down examples of what abusive behaviors can look like in this Power and Control Wheel.

The Center for Family Safety and Healing provides free trainings to teens and adults on healthy relationships, digital dating, boundaries and more. To request a training, please visit http://familysafetyandhealing.org/programs-and-services/community-training-programs/.


  • LoveIsRespect
    Highly trained advocates available 24/7 to offer support, information and advocacy to young adults who have questions or concerns about dating relationships. Advocates also provide support to concerned friends and family members, teachers, counselors, service providers and law enforcement. Free and confidential.
    Text “loveis” to 22522
  • Where’s The Line?
    A first-of-its-kind resource for bystanders who are seeking confidential answers and advice on a variety of topics, including teen dating violence.
    844-234-LINE (5463)
    Text 87028
    Chat at WheresTheLine.info
  • BRAVO – Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization
    Provides comprehensive programs and support to LGBTQI survivors of hate crimes, discrimination, intimate partner violence, stalking and sexual assault.

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