Teen Dating Violence: What It Looks Like & How You Can Help

Sarah BuschFeatured, Learning Resources, Mission Weekly

1 in 3 high school students experience physical or sexual violence, or both, from someone they are dating.

Ready or not, summer is over and students are back in school. The start of the school year often means big transitions for young people, including changes in romantic relationships. Often these changes are positive and exciting. However, they can sometimes reveal unhealthy relationship dynamics that teens and the adults who care for them need to be aware of.

Most of us think of intimate partner violence as something that happens between adults. But 1 in 3 high school students experience either physical or sexual violence (or both) from their romantic partner (Break the Cycle). Intimate partner violence often starts early; 26% of women and 15% of men who experience intimate partner violence experience violence for the first time before age 18 (CDC).

Image courtesy of the Center for Disease Control

In many ways, teen dating violence resembles violence between adult partners. It can include physical or sexual violence, emotional abuse, and stalking (CDC). However, there are a couple of ways in which teen dating violence differs from adult intimate partner violence.

Impact

Many young people experience the ups and downs of early relationships. But teens who experience dating abuse may experience severe consequences, including increased risk for:

  • Depression & anxiety
  • Tobacco, drug, and alcohol use
  • Antisocial behaviors (such as theft)
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Adult victimization

Sources: LoveIsRespect.org & Centers for Disease Control

Online Abuse

  • 59% of teens have experienced some form of online abuse, including offensive name-calling, spreading false rumors, and physical threats (Pew Research Center).
  • 25% have received explicit images they didn’t ask for (Pew Research Center).
  • 27% of teen daters have used social media to monitor their romantic partners’ location (Pew Research Center).
Bar graph showing the prevalence of various types of online harrassment among teens

Barriers to Getting Help

  • Services for victims of intimate partner violence are generally geared toward adult victims. Teens may be unaware of available resources, unable to access those resources, or fearful that their parents will be notified if they seek help (LoveIsRespect.org).
  • Many areas of teens’ lives are largely out of their control – where they live and go to school, which extracurricular and community activities they participate in, and how they access transportation (LoveIsRespect.org). This lack of autonomy can be especially challenging for teens who are unable or unwilling to tell their parents about the violence they are experiencing.

Additional Barriers for LGBTQ+ Youth

  • 17% of LGTBQ+ high school students experience physical dating violence — 2x more than their heterosexual peers (Break The Cycle).
  • Stigma, oppression, and discrimination can keep LGBTQ+ youth experiencing dating violence due to shame or fear of not being believed if they report abuse (LoveIsRespect.org).
  • Gender stereotypes about teen dating violence (such as that boys can’t be victims) make it difficult for some youth in same-sex relationships to recognize abuse.
  • Fear of harassment or fear of reinforcing negative stereotypes may prevent LGBTQ+ youth from seeking help — and abusive partners may exploit these fears to further isolate them (LoveIsRespect.org).

How You Can Help

Teens (and adults) who are experiencing intimate partner violence may believe that no one else notices the abuse or is able to help. Abusive partners often purposefully isolate victims from friends and family, convincing them that they have nowhere to turn.

If you or someone you know is experiencing violence from an intimate partner, call our 24/7 crisis line at 763-559-4945. Our advocates are here to help.

Seeing someone you care about in an abusive relationship can be frightening and confusing. Every situation is unique, but there are general red flags you can look out for.

Warning Signs of Teen Dating Violence

  • Extreme jealousy or possessiveness
  • Unexplained marks or bruises
  • Lack of participation in former activities or interests
  • Sudden changes in clothing or eating habits
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Excessive texts, emails, or social media messages
  • Constant belittling or put-downs

Sources: LoveIsRespect.org & Break The Cycle

Signs of a Healthy Teen Relationship

Two African-American teenagers taking a selfie on top of a large building

While teen dating violence is a serious issue, it’s important to note that romantic relationships can also be a source of support, joy, and growth for teens. How can you tell the difference? In a healthy teen relationship, both partners:

  • Are free to spend time with family and friends without their partner
  • Can comfortably express disagreement with their partner
  • Respect each other’s physical and emotional boundaries

Source: Futures Without Violence

What You Can Do

For Parents/Adults

  • Listen and give support.
  • Accept what they are telling you.
  • Show concern for their safety.
  • Talk about the behaviors, not the person.
  • Avoid ultimatums.
  • Be informed about dating violence.
  • Decide on next steps together.

For Teens

  • Reach out and let your friend know that you’re worried.
  • Help them recognize that the abuse is not normal and is NOT their fault.
  • Be supportive and listen carefully.
  • Acknowledge their feelings and be respectful of their decisions.
  • Connect your friend to resources in their community.
  • Don’t contact their abuser or publicly post negative things about them online – this can make the situation even worse for your friend.

Source: LoveIsRespect.org

For Community Members

We provide on-site presentations on Teen Domestic Violence to local schools, places of worship, and other community organizations. These presentations can provide adults with the knowledge and tools needed to prevent and address TDV and/or help teens develop healthy relationship skills. Email info@missionsinc.org or call 763-559-1883 to schedule a presentation.

Five adults sit around a table talking

Resources

Sarah Busch is the Development Associate at Missions Inc. Programs