What Does Teen Dating Violence Look Like?

Updated February 03, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Avia James

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence which could potentially be triggering.

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According to the Center for Disease Control website, "In a recent national survey, nearly 10 percent of high school students reported physical violence, and 11 percent reported that they experienced sexual violence from a dating partner in the 12 months before the survey."

These are alarming statistics for any parent and should be to youth as well. The feelings that teens experience in romantic relationships areoften referred to as "puppy love." Teens tend to fall head over heels right off the bat. They only see the positive in the person and fail to see the flaws that the other person has. This isn't usually a big problem. And, it tends to wear off over time. However, when a teen is a victim of teen dating violence, it's crucial that they be able to see the reality of the situation.

What Is Teen Dating Violence?

Teen dating violence (TDV) encompasses different forms of violence. According to the National Institute of Justice, TDV includes "physical, psychological or sexual abuse; harassment; or stalking or 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 includes behaviorslike punching, kicking, hitting, biting, shoving, scratching, and hair pulling. This form of teen dating violence can be readily identify by most people. On the other hand, while the other forms of abuse are just as damaging, they are typicallynot recognized as easily.

Emotional and psychological abuse include behaviors like shaming, name-calling, bullying, controlling, and intentionally embarrassing. Stalking includes both following and harassing a person to the point of jeopardizing their safety. Sexual abuse includes forcing a partner to do something without their consent.

TDV doesn't have to take place in person. Social media and modern technology have opened up new platforms for abusive behaviors.

The Difference With Teens

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Abusive relationships at every age are unacceptable. Nonetheless, the ages of those participating in the relationship play a role in the way they present themselves.Teenage relationships, nowadays, start atyoungeragesthan ever before and reach more "serious" levels faster. It is not uncommon for adolescents as young as 12 to be entering romantic relationships. There are a few issues that can arise because of this;

  • Many teenagers lack the maturity needed to handle the feelings that come with being in a romantic relationship.
  • Many teens lack the communication skills that are needed to communicate in a romantic relationship effectively.
  • Teenagers are still in a phase of discovering themselves making it easier for them to be swayed by what others say and do

Since teenagers are still learning who they are, they can be more easily influenced by others. It becomes a safety issue, when the person influencing them does it in a hurtful way. Without the relational maturity to be able to recognizebehaviors that areinappropriate,teens can find themselves in potentiallyprecarious situations.

What Are The Dangers Of Teen Dating Violence?

The dangers of teen dating violence can continue long past the teenage years. And, they are drastically more serious than some people like to admit.

Continued Abuse

Teenagers that are victims of teen dating violence are more likely to be part of dangerous relationships while in college and throughout their adult life. Early dating relationships can set a standard for future relationships, so then, if they weremistreated by their partners as teenagers, they mycome to believe that this is how they "deserve" to be treated.

Depression And Anxiety

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Victims of relationships that include teen dating violence are also more likely to struggle with anxiety and depression. The abuse that they endure, both physical and emotional, can quickly destroy their self-esteem. This can cause them to pull away further from those that love them and can help them. Depression is 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 victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide."

Substance Abuse

Teenagers that are victims of TDV are also more likely to start abusing drugs and alcohol. They look for ways to numb the pain that they are experiencing. This can lead to a lifetime of struggling with substance abuse which impacts every area of life.


Teen girls that are part of a violent relationship are more likely to become pregnant. The website loveisrespect.org states that "being physically or sexually abused makes teen girls six times more likely to become pregnant."

How To Recognize The Signs

It's normal for teenagers to slightly change their behavior when they are in a new relationship. The "puppy love" stage of a relationship is exciting. The other person is constantly on their mind, and it's hard to think of anything else. They want to spend all their time talking to or with the other person, which may make detection of violent relationship rather difficult. That's why it's so important to familiarize yourself with the signs:

  • Giving up activities and hobbies that used to be important
  • Pulling away from family and former friends
  • Excessively seeing or talking to their girlfriend or boyfriend
  • Being constantly worried about upsetting their boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Injuries that they try to hide or cover
  • Apologizing for the behavior of their boyfriend or girlfriend
  • School grades dropping or starting to struggle in class
  • Being pressured into doing things by their boyfriend or girlfriend

We Need Help On Both Sides Of The Relationship

There are two parties involved in teen dating violence, the victim and the abuser. And while treating the victim goes without saying, treating the abuser, too, is important, though often being overlooked. Both the victim and the abuser can greatly benefit from professional help.

Help For The Victim

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There are many reasons that victims don't reach out for help. One of those reasons is that they are embarrassed or ashamed of their situation. Some teenagers are worried about what their parents or friendswill say when they find out.

It's important to educate youth on how they should be treated in a dating relationship. We need to spread the word to show the warning signs that they should look for to find out iftheir relationship is dangerous. Then, youth should be educated on the steps to take to break away from this relationship, who to talk to, and what to say.

If you are the parent of a teen who,you feel, is in a relationship with teen dating violence, it's important that you let them know they will 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.

Help For The Abuser

Teenagers that are abusive when in teen dating relationships, are learning behaviors that can continue inthe future. They need to be taught appropriate ways to interact and communicate with those they are in a relationship with. While they may feel that it's not a big deal, it is a choice that can follow 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.

It's Important To Educate Teens

Teens need to be educated about what relationships should look like. It's hard for them to figure it out on their own as they are still learning communication skills and who they are. Peer pressure can cause teens to go against their better judgment and do things they wouldn't normally do.

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Teenagers need to be taught appropriate behaviors and how to respond if they find themselves in an unhealthy relationship. They should know what words to use and how to find a safe person to talk to that can help them navigate out of the situation that they are in.

If you are a teen in a relationship with teen dating violence - get help. If you are the parent of a teen who,you suspect, is in a bad relationship - help them to get the help they need. The professional, licensed therapists at BetterHelp are available to help educate youth on what healthy relationships look like. Regardless of what side of the relationship the teenager is on, an experienced therapist can help them make the changes they need.

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