Teen Dating Violence: What to Know

Teen dating violence is one of the most prevalent, and hidden, dangers that teens face today. An estimated 1.5 million adolescent boys and girls in the U.S. report being intentionally physically harmed by their dating partner in the last year. Aside from the immediate consequences of dating violence, abused teens are more likely to suffer from issues such as eating disorders, promiscuity and substance abuse. Teen girls who have experienced abuse are 6 times more likely to contact an STD or become pregnant.

There are a number of reasons why teen dating violence gets less attention among peers than other age appropriate issues such as mood disorders or substance abuse. Like any kind of abuse, the victims often feel ashamed of their situation or worried that they will be blamed or receive further consequences, either from parents or from their partner. A recent study concluded that only one third of reported teens involved in an abusive relationship confided in a friend, parent or authority figure. Many teens even confuse jealousy, possessiveness and control with love and may not be aware that their relationship is unhealthy or abusive. While most people know that domestic violence is against the law, many don’t know or understand the laws surrounding teen violence. In fact, 8 states in the U.S. still do not consider teen violence to be punishable as domestic abuse. Because of this, victims have a much more difficult time obtaining a protective or restraining order against their abuser.

What Should I Watch For?

As a parent, you should understand that dating violence affects teens of all ages and can occur regardless of racial or socioeconomic status. It is not reasonable to assume that your teen is exempt as long as they are participating in a social life that involves the opposite sex. 72 percent of 13-14 year olds are “dating” and violent behavior most often manifests between 6th and 12th grade.

You can help your teen avoid becoming a victim of abuse in many ways. You should consistently educate your child on the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships. If possible, providing an example of love and respect in the home will go a long way toward teaching your teen what to expect in a healthy relationship as well as how to treat their dating partner. Although teens are notoriously hard to talk to during the adolescent years, make sure you keep the lines of communication open with your teen. Through this, you can be aware of what is going on in your child’s relationship as well as offering yourself as a safe place to confide if needed. You will also be aware of any behavioral changes, such as less socialization, depression or anxiety that may indicate a problem.

You can also help your teen by fostering positive development at home and in the community. This can include high levels of bonding and nurturing positive communication. Encouraging social groups and activities that build self-esteem can also be protection against victimization. Putting a stop to teen dating violence requires a collaborative effort by teens, parents and educators. By spreading awareness, teens are more likely to recognize an unhealthy relationship and break the cycle of violence that can result in life-long consequences. 

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