Teen Dating Violence

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Trigger Warning: The details of this article on Teen Dating Violence may be distressing to some.

What is Teen Dating Violence?

Teen dating violence (TDV) is a form of intimate partner violence that occurs between two teenagers who are in an intimate relationship. Teen dating violence can occur in multiple forms and can occur in both heterosexual relationships and same-sex relationships. Dating violence can occur in person but also through technology. Teen dating violence is particularly dangerous because teenagers are vulnerable and often afraid to tell a parent or a friend what is happening to them. Additionally, when you’re a teenager you have less experience with healthy relationships and can mistake unhealthy behaviors such as teasing and name-calling as normal parts of a relationship when often they are signs of unhealthy behavior. Teen dating violence typically escalates over time and can be hard for young people to identify. This is especially true for emotionally abusive relationships because psychological abuse doesn’t leave physical marks like physical violence does.

What are the Different Types of Teen Dating Violence?

Dating violence can appear in many forms. Some people might experience only one type of abuse while others may experience multiple forms of abuse. The easiest type of abuse to identify is physical abuse and the most difficult to identify is emotional and psychological abuse. The four main types of teen dating violence are:

Physical Violence

Physical violence involves one person trying to hurt or injure another person. It is the most recognizable form of dating violence as it typically leaves a physical mark. Physical violence includes:

Hitting/slapping/punching

Kicking

Biting

Shoving

Spitting

Holding you down

Throwing things at you

Breaking your property

Interference while driving

Suffocation

Grabbing the face or neck

Using a weapon

Not letting someone leave by blocking the doorway/driveway

Not letting someone call the police or call for help

Sexual Violence

Sexual violence occurs when one person attempts to force another person to take part in a sexual act against their will/without their consent. It can involve:

Rape

Sexual assault

Sexual touching

Sexting

Threatening harm if they don't do what you want

Not letting them use birth control

Knowingly exposing them to HIV or other STIs

Forcing them to have a baby

Forcing an abortion

Forcing them to have sex with other people

Forcing them to watch pornography

Psychological/Emotional Abuse

Psychological abuse can occur verbally or non-verbally with the intention of harming another person mentally and emotionally, exerting control over the other person, and making the other person doubt their own experience among other things. Psychological abuse can include:

Verbal insults/verbal abuse

Mental abuse

Degradation/criticism

Yelling

Controlling/jealous behaviors

Constant monitoring

Reading their emails/texts

Shaming/bullying

Intentionally embarrassing them

Isolating them from friends and family

Threatening to harm them or threatening to commit suicide

Starting rumors

Getting angry when they spend time with other people

Making false accusations

Blaming them for your problems

Blaming them for being abusive

Threatening to expose personal information/photos

Being controlling/making decisions for them

Gaslighting (gaslighting is a behaviour that makes someone feel like they can’t trust their instincts, judgements and reality, making them question everything they believe and therefore making them dependent on you)

  • Refusing to listen to them/their thoughts/feelings
  • Telling them that they’re overreacting
  • Telling them that they made things up/don’t remember them correctly
  • Making them feel guilty about being upset
  • Changing the subject
  • Convincing them the abusive behaviour isn’t abusive

Stalking

Stalking can take place in many forms but is essentially the pattern of repeated unwanted attention and contact towards someone. Stalking includes

Following someone physically

Waiting for them outside their home/school/job

Showing up to where they are without letting them know

Hiding your caller ID

Constantly calling or texting

Sending unwanted letters, cards, emails, gifts

Monitoring their phone calls or computer use without their knowledge

Using social media to track their location

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What Are the Signs That Your Teen May be Experiencing Dating Violence?

Often, teenagers might have a hard time identifying or accepting that they are victims of dating violence or in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship. Because teenagers do not often report the dating violence that they experience, it can be hard to notice if your teenager or someone that you know is in an abusive relationship. Some of the signs of abusive relationships and emotional abuse to watch out for in your teen include:

Becoming isolated from family and friends

Losing interest in activities that they previously enjoyed

Making excuses for their partner's behaviour

Their partner verbally insults them in front of you or other people

Their partner exhibits excessively jealous behaviour

They have bruises or injuries that they have a hard time explaining

It seems as though their partner is controlling of them

If you or someone that you know is experiencing teen dating violence or is in an abusive relationship, you can call the national domestic violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 which is available 24/7.

What Are the Rates of Teen Dating Violence in the U.S.?

CDC Statistics

Teen dating violence affects millions of teenagers in the U.S. every year. In fact, nearly 1.5 million high school students in the United States have experienced physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.1 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behaviour Survey and the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey indicated that:2

Bureau of Justice Statistics

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has reported that girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rates of dating violence at triple the national average for intimate partner violence.1

Other research indicates that at least one in three adolescents in the U.S. has been a victim of physical, sexual, or emotional dating violence. Amongst various forms of youth violence, teen dating violence is one of the biggest forms of youth violence.1

Here are some disturbing statistics:3, 4

25% of high school females in the U.S. have been physically or sexually abused which makes them 6 times more likely to become pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted infection

Females aged 16 to 24 are three times as likely to be abused by an intimate partner than the rest of the population

26% of women and 15% of men who were victims of sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner first experienced such violence before the age of 18

1 in 11 female high school students and 1 in 15 male high school students reported experiencing physical dating violence in the last year

1 in 9 female high school students and 1 in 36 male high school students reported experiencing sexual dating violence in the last year

Although teenage dating is much different than adult dating, over two-thirds of teenager's report that they are 'dating'

Only about one-third of teenagers who experience teen violence confide in someone about it and even less report it to some authoritative body

Nearly half of female high school students who have experienced sexual and physical dating violence have thought about suicide and more than 1 in 4 have attempted suicide

What Are the Effects of Teen Dating Violence?

Being subject to an unhealthy, abusive, and violent relationship can have serious consequences on teenagers. The effects of teen dating violence can be physical and psychological and usually involve short-term effects (such as a physical injury) or long-term effects (such as PTSD or depression). Because teenagers are vulnerable and are still developing physically and emotionally, they are at a high risk of experiencing long-term effects of abuse. Experiencing abuse and violence at such a young age can have lasting impacts on a teen’s relationships, both romantic and otherwise, and can severely impact self-esteem and mental state. Some of the effects or consequences of experiencing teen dating violence are:

Anxiety Becoming pregnant
Depression Negative body image
Engaging in unhealthy behaviors such as excessive drinking, smoking, or doing illegal substances Becoming overly dependent on other people
Antisocial behaviors such as lying, stealing, or bullying others Increased risk of experiencing violent relationships in adulthood
Thoughts of suicide/suicide Harder time being intimate with future partners
An STI diagnosis Having a hard time trusting people again
Grades dropping/doing poorly in school Injury/death
Not attending school because of feeling unsafe

Anxiety

Becoming pregnant

Depression

Negative body image

Engaging in unhealthy behaviors such as excessive drinking, smoking, or doing illegal substances

Becoming overly dependent on other people

Antisocial behaviors such as lying, stealing, or bullying others

Increased risk of experiencing violent relationships in adulthood

Thoughts of suicide/suicide

Harder time being intimate with future partners

An STI diagnosis

Having a hard time trusting people again

Grades dropping/doing poorly in school

Injury/death

Not attending school because of feeling unsafe

Some facts on the consequences of dating violence:5

Teens who experience dating abuse are more likely to be depressed, have eating disorders, and perform poorly in school

Teens who experience dating violence are at risk for alcohol and drug abuse

Teens who experience dating violence are at a higher risk of experiencing dating violence again in adulthood

How to Prevent Teen Dating Violence?

Although teenage dating violence has only recently been thought of as a public health concern, it is a significant problem that can have lasting impacts on the many teenagers. For this reason, it is extremely important that from a young age, parents, educators and policymakers help to teach children about consent, respect, and how to identify abusive behaviours. The CDC makes the following recommendations for preventing teenage dating violence:

Teach safe and healthy relationship skills

  • Social-emotional learning programs for youth
  • Programs on healthy relationships taught in schools
  • Emphasis on consent

Engage influential adults and peers

  • Male figures as allies in the prevention of violence towards women (while dating violence can be instigated be anyone, statistically, men tend to exhibit more dating violence towards women than vice versa)
  • Family based programs
  • Education for family/friends/bystanders on how to approach dating violence

Rewire developmental pathways against partner violence

  • Parenting and family relationship programs
  • Treatment for at-risk children and families
  • Early childhood developmental programs

Create protective environments

  • Have a safe school environment
  • Have a safe workplace
  • Allow youth to feel comfortable confiding in figures of authority

Support for Survivors

  • Victim-centered services
  • Treatment and support for survivors of teen dating violence

Apart from changes, we can make at policy levels, within education, and surrounding social supports, a lot of the ways to prevent teen dating violence begin at home with parenting skills.

Tips for When Your Teen Starts Dating

Fostering open communication with your child is the best way to ensure that they are safe and will come to you for help if needed. One of the biggest problems with teen dating violence is that it is hard to recognize and severely under-reported. Tips for parents whose teenagers are beginning to date are:

Teach Consent

One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to intimate partner violence is that we need to teach victims how to deal with the violence rather than teaching perpetrators to not be violent in the first place. It is crucial, especially with young boys, to teach them about consent, and for them to understand that violence is inappropriate in relationships. It is important to teach your children to communicate openly with partners about what they are and are not comfortable with. Consent is the first step to healthy relationships.

Help Teens Recognize the Warning Signs of Abuse

Teenagers who have little to no experience with relationships may struggle to recognize signs of abuse, particularly when they are not physical. Speak to your children about the various forms of intimate partner violence and how to look out for warning signs in a partner.

Foster a Healthy and Trusting Relationship with Your Children

have an open and communicative relationship with your child so that they feel comfortable talking to you about their relationships and any violence or abuse they might be experiencing. Openly discuss relationships, sex, and consent with your children. Try to instill a ‘no secrets’ policy and ensure your child that they won’t get in trouble if they come to you for help.

Teach Your Children to be Assertive

Teach how to say no and to stand up for themselves when something is wrong, or they feel uncomfortable. While the onus falls on the perpetrator of violence and the work that needs to be done is in addressing those violent tendencies, helping your child to learn to say no is a valuable lesson in dealing with abuse.

What is CDC’s Dating Matters Program?

The CDC has created a Dating Matters: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships program that is intended to help prevent teen dating violence. The Dating Matter’s program was developed with the results of survey research that was conducted on 6th to 8th graders.6 The program focuses on 11-14-year-olds and is composed of various prevention strategies for individuals, peers, families, schools, and neighborhoods.6The program supports the development of healthy, respectful, and nonviolent relationships. The Dating Matter’s Program is made up of various educational tools and resources. The various programs included are:6

Youth Programs

  • Dating Matters for 6th Graders
  • Dating Matters for 7th Graders
  • Safe Dates for 8th Graders

The Youth Programs focus on:

  • Healthy and unhealthy behaviors in relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners
  • The impact of social media and technology on relationships
  • Risk factors for teen dating violence (e.g. substance use, risky sexual behavior, lack of coping skills)

Parent Programs

  • Parents Matter! for Dating Matters (6th grade)
  • Dating Matters for Parents (7th grade)
  • Families for Safe Dates (8th grade)

The Parent Programs focus on promoting open communication with children about sexual health, positive communication surrounding healthy dating relationships, and conversations about dating violence.

Community Programs & Tools

  • i2i: What R U Looking 4? Youth Communications Program
  • Dating Matters Capacity Assessment and Planning Tool
  • Dating Matters Training for Educators
  • Dating Matters Interactive Guide to Informing Policy
  • Dating Matters Guide to Using Indicator Data