What Does Teen Dating Violence Look Like?

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated May 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, adolescents continue to experience interpersonal violence victimization, with one in eight high school students reporting experiences with dating violence. Research shows rates of victimization are higher for students identifying as female or LGBTQ or those who report being unsure of their sexual orientation or identity, placing them at a higher risk of experiencing teen dating violence. These are alarming statistics for any teenager or parent. 

The feelings teens experience in romantic relationships are often referred to as "puppy love." Some teens may only see the positive traits in a person they fell in love with and can sometimes fail to see the unhealthy behaviors in the relationship. Puppy love isn't always a problem, and it often wears off with time. However, when dating abuse comes into the picture, teens must be able to see the reality of the situation.

Are you or a loved one managing teen dating violence?

What is teen dating violence?

Teen dating violence (TDV) encompasses different forms of violence, including physical and sexual violence. According to the National Institute of Justice, TDV includes "physical, psychological or sexual abuse; harassment; or stalking of any person ages 12 to 18 in the context of a past or present romantic or consensual relationship."

Most people are familiar with physical abuse. It can include behaviors like punching, kicking, hitting, biting, shoving, scratching, hair-pulling, and anything involving an expression of physical force, even if that force is not directly applied to the other person (for example, punching a hole in a wall during an argument). Sexual dating violence, compared to physical abuse, involves additional complexities, such as nonconsensual sexual touching or coercing a partner into sexual acts.

In contrast, emotional and psychological abuse can include behaviors such as shaming, name-calling, bullying, controlling, and intentionally embarrassing the other person. Stalking can include following and harassing a person to the point of jeopardizing their safety. 

TDV doesn't have to take place in person. Other forms of teen dating violence have emerged as social media and modern technology have opened up new avenues and platforms for abusive behaviors. For example, showing sexual pictures of someone without their consent is increasingly being considered a crime.

Why intimate partner violence may occur among teens

Abusive relationships at every age are unacceptable. Defensive factors such as awareness and education about teen dating violence are crucial, especially since the ages of those participating in the relationship can play a role in the way the abuse presents itself. Nevertheless, the ages of those participating in the relationship can play a role in the way the abuse presents itself. A few issues can arise when young people are involved in romantic relationships during their teen years. These issues include:

  • Many young people may lack the brain development needed to handle the powerful feelings of being in a romantic relationship and in love with someone.

  • Young people may not have the experience to recognize red flags in unhealthy relationships, and if they have never been in love before, they may worry that they will never experience those feelings again with someone else, putting them at greater risk of remaining in an abusive situation.

  • Many young people may need to practice communication skills to express themselves openly and maintain healthy relationships.

  • Young people may be more easily influenced by others because they are still in the phase of discovering themselves and responding to authority figures, which can become a safety issue when the person influencing them does so in a hurtful way. 

Without the experience to be able to recognize inappropriate behaviors, adolescents can find themselves in potentially precarious situations where they may become victims of dating abuse.

What are the dangers of teen dating violence?

Those experiencing teen dating violence face significant risks that can continue long past the teenage years. In addition, the dangers can be quite serious and concerning.

Continued abuse

Teenagers who are survivors of teen dating violence may be more likely to become victims of future dangerous relationships throughout their adult life. Early dating relationships can set a standard for future relationships and cause the development of mental health challenges. Young people whose partner mentally abused them, demonstrated psychological aggression towards them, or otherwise mistreated them may come to believe that such a relationship dynamic is how they "deserve" to be treated or is an example of a "normal" relationship.

Depression and anxiety

Survivors of relationships that include violence are also more likely to struggle with anxiety and depression. The abuse that they endured, both physical and emotional, can negatively affect their self-esteem, which can cause them to pull away further from those who love them and can help them. Depression can be a dangerous cycle that can lead to suicide if not properly addressed and treated. The Love is Respect website claims, "Half of youth who have been survivors of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide."

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. Support is available 24/7.

Substance abuse

Survivors of domestic violence and intimate partner violence are also more likely to start misusing drugs and alcohol. Some may look for ways to numb the pain that they experienced. This tendency can lead to a lifetime of struggling with substance use disorders, which can impact every area of life.

Pregnancy

The website loveisrespect.org states that "being physically or sexually abused can make teen girls six times more likely to become pregnant."

How to recognize the signs of physical dating violence

It can be normal for teenagers to change their behavior in a new relationship. The "puppy love" stage of a relationship can be exciting. The other person may be constantly on their mind and want to spend all their time talking to or being with them.

However, these completely normal behaviors can make the detection of violent relationships rather difficult. That's why it can be so important to familiarize yourself with the signs of someone entering into an unhealthy relationship:

  • Giving up activities and hobbies that used to be important

  • Pulling away from family and former friends

  • Excessively seeing or talking to their partner

  • Being constantly worried about upsetting their partner

  • Injuries that they try to hide or cover

  • Apologizing for the behavior of their partner

  • School grades dropping or starting to struggle in class

  • Being pressured into doing things by their partner

Building healthy relationships

There are two parties involved in teen dating violence: the survivor and the abuser. While treating the survivor is crucial, treating the abuser, too, can be important. Both the survivor and the abuser can greatly benefit from resources as well as professional help.

Help for the survivor

There are many reasons why survivors might not reach out for help. They may feel embarrassed or ashamed of their situation and want to avoid bringing unwanted attention to what they may view as a personal failure. Some teenagers may worry about what their parents or friends will say when they find out.

Educating teenagers on how they should be treated in a dating relationship is important. It's also vital that they can recognize the warning signs of abuse when assessing whether their relationship could be dangerous. Finally, youth should be educated on how to break away from this relationship, whom to talk to for support, and what to say when they need help.

If you are the parent of a teen who you suspect is in a violent relationship, let them know they would not be in trouble for coming to you for help. If a teenager feels they are going to be judged or punished for their relationship or what has happened, they may choose to stay quiet instead of talking to you about it. Creating a safe environment where they can open up to you makes it more likely they'll get the support they need if they're ever in trouble.

Help for the abuser

Teenagers who act abusively when in teen dating relationships might be learning behaviors that can continue in the future. They may need to be taught appropriate ways to interact and communicate with those they are in a relationship with. While they may feel that their actions are not a big deal, it may be a choice that follows them through the rest of their life.

Teens may feel immune to legal trouble due to their behavior, but they aren't. Having to register as a sex offender or needing to report a domestic violence conviction can impact their ability to get a job or even a student loan while attending college.

Are you or a loved one managing teen dating violence?

Finding support for relationship difficulties

If you are a teen involved in a violent relationship - seek help. If you are the parent of a teen whom you suspect is in an unhealthy relationship - help them get the support that they need. The professional, licensed therapists at BetterHelp are available to educate youth and parents alike on healthy relationships. Regardless of the side of the relationship the teenager is on, an experienced therapist can assist them in making changes that promote healthier relationships. Since BetterHelp operates entirely online, parents and teens can choose to connect in the way that makes them feel most comfortable. This connection could be through messages, phone calls, or video chats. 

Online therapy has been proven to reduce psychological distress and increase life satisfaction among students. Additionally, studies have also shown that online cognitive behavioral therapy can be just as effective if not more effective than in-person therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches people to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, thereby altering their thinking patterns to be more helpful and productive.

Takeaway

Teens may need to be educated about what healthy relationships should look like. It can be hard for them to figure it all out on their own as they may still be developing productive communication skills and discovering who they are. Peer pressure can also cause teens to go against their better judgment and do things they wouldn't normally do. Teens should know what words to use and how to find a safe person to talk to should they find themselves in an unhealthy relationship. An online therapist can be a powerful resource as teens process trauma related to a past violent dating relationship.
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