Family Health

What Teen Dating Violence Looks Like and How You Can Prevent It

Published: Feb. 11, 2021


But when you do talk to your teen about dating and relationships, make sure you’re discussing more than just curfew. You should be talking about what is and isn’t acceptable in healthy relationships – and how frequent and dangerous teen dating violence can be. 


Teen Dating Violence Happens

What surprises most people about teen dating violence is that it happens – 81% of parents don’t know that it’s an issue. And it looks no different than dating violence and domestic violence among adults. Dating violence is a pattern of abusive behavior used to exert power and control over a dating partner, and it happens with shocking frequency in teen relationships. 

In a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 26% of women and 15% of men said they experienced intimate partner violence for the first time before age 18. Nearly 1 in 11 female teens and 1 in 15 male teens experienced physical dating violence in the last year, and 1 in 9 female teens and 1 in 36 male teens reported sexual dating violence in the last year. And teen dating violence disproportionately affects sexual minorities and racial/ethnic minorities. 


When Violence Isn’t Physical or Sexual

The word “violence” is often associated with physical or sexual acts. But just like domestic violence, teen dating violence doesn’t always take those forms. 

In addition to physical and sexual violence, teen dating violence can include: 

  • Emotional abuse through put downs, name-calling or making a victim feel guilty
  • Intimidation with gestures, words or actions
  • Isolating a victim from friends and family
  • Coercion and threats, such as threatening to leave, hurt someone or commit suicide
  • Stalking, either physically or digitally 
  • Revenge porn, or posting sexually explicit images of a victim online without consent


How to Prevent Teen Dating Violence

Teen dating violence can set off a pattern of abusive relationships in the future. And victims of teen dating violence are more likely to experience depression and anxiety; use alcohol, drugs and tobacco; lie, bully and steal; and think about suicide. All of these behaviors are cause for concern regardless, but they could also be signs that your teen is in an abusive relationship. 

Preventing teen dating violence starts before your children are teenagers. Prevention can include:

  • Helping children develop open communication skills
  • Teaching children how to manage emotions in healthy ways
  • Talking to your kids about what’s happening at school or on social media
  • Acknowledging their feelings and not dismissing them
  • Engaging men and boys in your family as allies 


Teaching and Encouraging Healthy Relationships

Communicating with your children is key, but so is modeling and teaching healthy relationships. When talking to your teen about dating, discuss your own dating relationships – the good and the bad. Share the lessons you learned. Stress that healthy relationships consist of mutual respect and trust. Your teen should be able to talk to or hang out with whoever they want. They should never feel fear – a relationship should feel supportive and safe. 

Encourage your teen to be a good friend as well. It’s normal for someone to spend less time with their friends when they start dating, but it’s a problem if that time away becomes excessive. Your teen should be concerned if their friend’s significant other becomes controlling or limits who they spend time with. They should speak up if they see red flags on social media, like name calling, coercion or threats. 

If you suspect your teen is in an abusive relationship and you don’t know where to turn, contact their school counselor. You should also notify their primary care provider because of the potential mental and physical consequences of abusive relationships. And you can call Loveisrespect from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (866) 331-9474.

More Resources

About the Author

Jen Tran, RN, SANE, Methodist SANE/SART Program coordinator, says she is inspired every day by the passion and tirelessness of her fellow Methodist SANE nurses. She is also inspired by the community and the way everyone pulls together to try to put an end to sexual assault and domestic violence. 

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