Get the Facts About Teen Dating Violence

    February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Yes, it’s an uncomfortable topic and as a parent, you may be thinking, “not my child”. It’s not unusual for a parent to think that their son or daughter is somehow immune from ever experiencing intimate partner violence. The truth is that dating violence is on the rise and the more we talk about it, the better equipped we are to prevent it. But this message isn’t just for parents. It’s for educators, teachers, social workers, family, and friends. We all bear the responsibility of helping young people learn how to protect themselves and engage in healthy relationships.

    I want you to think back to your first crush or the first time someone refereed to you as their boyfriend or girlfriend. Now some of us may have to reach further back into our memory banks but we’ve all been there. It’s an exciting, butterfly-inducing, nerve racking experience. They became the center of our universe and life seemed unimaginable without them.

    Even today’s version of young love still has that same intensity and all-consuming feeling. Now imagine that intensity amplified by the current dynamics that teens face today: increased access and use of both prescription and street drugs; constant access to hyper-sexualized content; and technology that enables teens to have instant access to one another, track one another, diminish one another’s self-worth, and lower inhibition and accountability. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right?

    These are only some of the reasons we have seen an increase in the reported cases of teen dating violence among American youth.  According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, nearly 1.5 million high school students experience some form of dating violence in a single year with 1 in 10 students admitting to being purposely hit or physically harmed by their partner.

    What is Teen Dating Violence?

    The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) defines teen dating violence as, “violence committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim and where the existence of such a relationship shall be determined based on a consideration of the following factors:

    The length of the relationship

    The type of relationship

    The frequency of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship.”

    Teen dating violence is a type of intimate partner violence. The term intimate partner violence is the act of violence between two individuals who have an intimate or close relationship. This includes couples who are dating, married couples, cohabitating couples, and same-sex couples. Teen dating violence brings the focus in on dating relationships of teens ranging in age from 13 to 18.

    The violent behaviors that are characteristic of these relationships are the same for all types of intimate partner violence. These behaviors typically fall into 3 three categories: emotional, physical and sexual.

    • Emotional violence can occur in the form of threats, shaming, name-calling, critique to diminish self-worth, and self-harming behaviors to incite fear or guilt in a victim. Stalking is also another tactic that can be used to harass or scare a partner.
    • Physical violence can include but is not limited to, hitting, slapping, shoving, punching, or hair pulling.
    • Sexual violence is when a partner is forced to engage in sexual activity and does not or is unable to give consent.

    Who is Most at Risk?

    Data confirms that adolescent girls are victimized at a much higher rate than adolescent boys. Of these female victims, 94% are between the ages of 16-19. However, we must keep in mind that studies also tell us that adolescent boys are sometimes victims of violence and are less likely to report an assault. At the same time, we must be aware of the behaviors and traits of adolescent boys that put them at risk of becoming abusive. Your teen might be at risk of experiencing dating violence if:

    • They believe that violence or physical aggression is acceptable behavior
    • Witnessed violence in the home
    • They have a history of abuse either as victim or perpetrator
    • Engage in alcohol or substance use
    • Exhibit pleasing behaviors or low self-worth
    • Struggle with depression, anxiety, or isolation

    What Should Parents Do?

    Prevention is the best way to protect your teen. Being informed and sharing this information with your teen will help to greatly reduce the risk.  If you’re worried about it being uncomfortable and awkward, get over it. It’s better to be temporarily uncomfortable than to have regrets. Research tells us that teens who experience dating violence, are at an increased likelihood of experiencing intimate partner violence as an adult. Make it a point to discuss teen dating violence even if you’re the only one talking and it seems as if your teen has tuned you out. They are listening. Use stories in the news to gauge what your teen thinks about dating violence. Your comfort and openness (even if you have to fake it), will help your teen develop confidence that you, their parent, will have a supportive response if something were to happen.

    The most effective way to help your teen recognize healthy dating behaviors is to role model those behaviors in your own relationship. Words are great but seeing is believing. Children learn how to treat others and develop expectations of how to be treated by watching you. Show them healthy boundaries and respect for self. You can’t always be with them but you can and must provide them with the information and support they need.


    National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline

    CDC’s Dating Matters: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships


    National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, Love Is Respect, retrieved from

    CDC’s Dating Matters: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships retrieved from

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2011. MMWR, Surveillance Summaries 2012; 61(no. SS-4).

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