Teen Dating Violence: What Parents Need to Know

Teen Dating Violence What Parents Need to KnowIn the wake of the romance of Valentine’s Day, it seems a bit contrary to bring up a topic like dating violence.

But February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, so there’s no better time to discuss this serious situation that’s affecting way more adolescents and young people than we think.

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What is dating violence?

Dating violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner.

It can take the form of physical violence, like hitting or shoving, or it can be verbal or emotional abuse—like humiliation or intimidation.

In today’s digital world, more and more dating violence is happening through the web. Social media provides an easy channel for harassment, threats, and cyber bullying in the context of a dating relationship.

Is dating violence common?

More so than most of us realize. Consider these chilling stats:

  • Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year.
  • One in three girls in the U.S. is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner. Yes, you read that right: 1 in 3. 
  • One quarter of high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse or date rape.

And let’s not forget that these stats are probably under-estimated due to the fact that so much of this kind of abuse goes unreported. Indeed, one report estimates that only a third of teens in an abusive relationship ever tell anyone about it.

What are the effects?

Dating violence is about so much more than a one-time cruel comment or angry shove.

Teens suffering from dating abuse generally suffer academically, emotionally, and socially. Their grades drop, they become isolated from friends and family, and they often turn to drugs, alcohol, or other dangerous coping tools.

They are at greater risk for depression, eating disorders, and risky sexual behavior—an abused teen girl is six times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to get an STD.

And it gets worse: One study found that half of youth who have been victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide.

Why are we not talking about this issue more? 

What should parents watch out for?

We all know that high school relationships are often fraught with drama and dysfunction, so it can be tough for parents to judge the line between normal teenage behavior and abuse.

The Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month website lists these 10 warning signs of common abusive behaviors.

  • Checking your teen’s cell phone or email without permission
  • Constantly putting your teen down
  • Extreme jealousy or insecurity
  • Explosive temper
  • Isolating your teen from family or friends
  • Making false accusations
  • Mood swings
  • Physically hurting your teen in any way
  • Possessiveness
  • Telling your teen what to do

What should parents do if they think their teen is experiencing dating violence?

As difficult as it can be—and as strongly as your teen might resist the conversation—the worst thing a parent can do is ignore the physical or emotional abusive behavior.

The National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline is available to help parents and teens 24/7 via phone, text, or online chat. They also offer great resources for teens about such relevant topics as how to talk about sex in a healthy relationship, and how to show respect through texting.

Did any of these stats about dating violence surprise you? Why do you think this important issue isn’t being talked about more?  


14 responses to “Teen Dating Violence: What Parents Need to Know”

  1. Even though my daughters have a long time until this becomes an issue (is 30 an acceptable age to allow dating?!), this is such valuable information for ANY and EVERY parent. And downright scary! Yes, we should be talking about this more.

  2. I think one of your warning signs is key: when a partner puts down the other person. I knew someone who was in an abusive relationship, and at first I thought the guy was just being funny. Then I thought he was just being mean. Only later did I connect the dots.

    • It’s amazing how things that seem “harmless” are often signs of something much more serious. I hope the person you knew was able to get out of that relationship.

  3. I was exposed to these warning signs early in my dating life. My mom was a social worker when I was in high school and came home with a pamphlet about abuse. My boyfriend at the time scored a few of the emotional abuse points on the list and my mom was concerned. I think sharing the signs with our teen girls is so important so that they know what to look for. And yes those statistics are shocking and scary and we absolutely NEED to be talking about this more. Thank you for sharing!

  4. I had no idea these numbers were so high. I do have a teenage daughter. She has a strong personality and is a lot more self confident and self assured than I was at her age…I don’t think she would put up with any of this. That said though, I know we should never say never. I will definitely keep my ears and eyes open.

  5. Michelle’s comment could have been mine. Never say never. Sadly, we’ve had the domestic/dating violence discussion when celebrities make bad decisions and it comes out in the news. An opportunity to learn, but so sad when role models engage in this behavior.

  6. It’s such a hard age for parents and teens. Besides, the kids are trying so hard to be independent. I think they get caught up in the fuzzy judgement between being a child and asking for help vs. being a grown-up and handling things on their own. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Perhaps one way parents of teens can help without appearing to be involved (bcz the independence issue we all remember from our own teen years prevents kids from specifically reaching out to their parents) is to post a crisis line text line on the fridge so their teen can access it at will, without ever explaining to mom or dad. These lines seem to be popping up – thankfully – and are targeted to teens/young adults. My county in Alameda, Ca has this one:Text keyword “Safe” to 839863 between 4pm and 11pm daily, for youth only.

    The NYT had an article about these text crisis lines in which it mentioned the National Dating Abuse Helpline : http://www.ndah.org/ that has phone/sms/live chat capabilities.

    Relationship violence, whether dating or domestic or social, can be so isolating that the victim can’t see how much support they really have for personal liberation. Even strong girls can be overwhelmed by unreasonable partner demands if the girl is isolated from support.

    This is such a critical issue bcz it sets up girls to expect more of the same in future relationships.

  8. I have a friend that are in dating abuse, particularly emotional abuse. I spot it immediately because I was once a victim and I’m lucky I successfully get out from the cycle by myself. I try to help her but her parents…
    I live in a country where the society only know one mental health issue that is insanity, they don’t know about depression, anxiety, etc. So this issue of dating abuse is a strange concept in here. Her mother take this too lightly. I told her to cut ties with this guy and just ignore him. Then, he comes to her house… when she never told him about where she live (stalking behavior). I told her and her sister to ask for their parents help but their mom action is to tell them to talk to him. I’m really worried because this girl is very soft and has a lot of anxiety. She’s very easy to influence and I know an abuser is good at sweet talking. How can I convince their parent that this isn’t something that can be take so lightly and she needs to support her children.
    Please, I’m afraid of their safety


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