Teen dating violence affects 1 in 3 teens. The harsh truth is, this teen affected by teen dating violence could be your child. And the teen perpetuating this violence could be your child, too.

It is far more effective to be proactive in violence prevention than to treat the symptoms and effects of teen dating violence after it occurs.

What is teen dating violence?

Teen dating violence is a type of intimate partner violence occurring between people in a close relationship. The types of violence that can occur are physical violence, sexual violence, emotional and psychological violence, stalking and harassment.

What are the consequences of teen dating violence?

Teens that experience unhealthy, abusive or violent relationships can have severe short- and long-term impacts on their wellbeing. Teens who experience violence are more likely to:

  • Experience depression and anxiety
  • Contemplate or attempt suicide
  • Engage in substance use such as tobacco, alcohol and drugs
  • Have higher rates of pregnancy and STDs
  • Develop a negative view of self and have intimacy issues
  • Develop co-dependency traits that hinders achieving independence
  • Enter into future abusive relationships

Those that experience violence early on, especially as they are still developing, become significantly more disadvantaged when it comes to experiencing healthy relationships that everyone deserves. Many teen dating violence victims find themselves in more abusive relationships later on. These dating violence symptoms don’t just impact the person who experiences the violence; it impacts families, friendships, future relationships and generations to come.

It takes energy and time to unlearn toxic and abusive behaviors that are perpetrated on teen dating violence victims. Many victims find themselves needing therapy whether they have experienced violence acutely or chronically. Some victims seek help or therapy later on in life when life has become unmanageable due to PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc. as a result of abuse. There is often an emotional and financial toll when therapeutic intervention is needed – an unfair cost to victims, but victims also report many benefits from therapy. As you can see, the consequences of abuse takes a toll. This is why teen dating violence prevention work is so important.

“Prevention is so much better than healing because it saves the labor of being sick.”

Thomas Adams

Teen dating violence from perspectives of a survivor and professionals

This video provides information for parents from perspectives of a teen dating violence survivor, a pediatric doctor and a rape crisis center CEO.

Teen Dating Violence Survivor: “The abuse was insidious. A senior at my high school began paying attention to me as a freshman. To any freshman at the bottom of the totem pole, that would feel good to be noticed. He showered me with compliments, learned my vulnerabilities, quickly escalated the relationship, tested my boundaries early on, began isolating me from my friends, spread rumors about me so if I did speak up, no one would believe me. Additionally, I was not aware of what healthy teen dating was supposed to look like. It was not modeled at home and it was not taught in sex education at school. If I could go back and talk to my 14 year old self, I’d say,

“You deserve better. You don’t deserve to be hurt. And that includes any sort of physical violence, sexual violence, emotional violence. You deserve to be built up, not be brought down.”

It wasn’t until I was older and fully realized what healthy and unhealthy relationships were that I fully realized the severity of the abuse I experienced as a teen. I knew I wasn’t treated well, but my abuser told me that’s what love was and I believed him. It is an incredibly difficult position to be in when it’s your first relationship, when there are unbalanced power dynamics, when you don’t have the knowledge of what is healthy vs. what is not, and you’re isolated from your support systems.”

Pediatric Doctor: Abuse can start off seeming like behavior is coming from a good place. “In the beginning, it’s just like, “Oh, I just want to know where you were,” and then it becomes, “Where are you?” And then, “I want to go through your cell phone,” and then, “I need to know where you are every minute.” In order to recognize these alarming warning signs, it’s vital parents build trust with their teens. “Teens may act like they don’t really want you involved, but they do.”

Rape Crisis CEO: “[For parents] It’s once you build that trust and that open conversation that you really have an opportunity to say, “Hey, this doesn’t seem to be a healthy relationship to me. Let’s talk more about it.”

Teen dating violence prevention tips for parents

Preventing teen dating violence before it happens is a worthy pursuit. Parents can play a vital role in teen dating violence prevention, so here are some tips for parents.

  1. Talk to your teens. You know your children better than anyone. It’s important to keep lines of communication open. While your teen may be in their independence phase and shrug you off, it’s important to keep bonding with them and show interest in their lives. Let them know you are there to listen, and don’t act like their issues are trivial. Talk to them about healthy and unhealthy behaviors (red flags and green flags) in relationships.
teen dating red and green flags
Via YWCA of Greater Cincinnati

2. Get to know who your teen is spending time with. Ask your teen questions about who they are spending time with. Invite their significant other over and observe their behavior. Observe how your teen acts around their significant other.

3. Trust your gut and intuition. If something seems or feels off about your teen’s significant other, trust that feeling. Many people do not trust what their intuition is trying to tell them. You may feel like you need evidence to prove and make sense of these gut feelings, but you don’t. Intuition is quirky like that. Trust your intuition. It can protect your teen’s wellbeing.

4. Teach your teens about assertiveness. It’s important to have assertiveness and solid communication skills. Having the skills to be assertive can protect your teen in current and future relationships.

5. Teach your teens the warning signs (before they begin dating). Help your teen understand warning signs such as jealousy, insisting on spending every free moment together, asking for passwords to phones or accounts, not respecting boundaries, etc. Let your teen know they deserve individuality and autonomy and that true love does not harm.

6. Teach your teens (and kids) about strength and courage. Tell your kids that being strong does not mean trying to solve problems on their own. Tell them that there is strength and courage in asking for help (and be sure to model this: if your child asks for help, make sure you will help if you say you will).

7. Parents, arm yourselves with knowledge. It is worthwhile to understand abuse and how it works. Abusers are manipulators. They can not only manipulate your teen, but they can manipulate you.

Resources to equip parents to prevent teen dating violence

Understanding abusers, why they abuse and how they abuse can arm you with information and knowledge that can be life-saving for your teen.

Have thoughts or advice about teen dating violence prevention? Share them in the comment section below.