Our early intimate relationships are marked by hopes and dreams and strong feelings. Due to lack of experience, teens may be blindsided when feelings turn dangerously negative. Teasing, name-calling and little “love taps” might seem like a normal part of dating, but they could be signs of abuse to come. When behaviors escalate into teen dating violence (TDV), young people can be physically hurt and emotionally damaged.
Rates for TDV vary according to the type of violence and how it is reported, but the phenomenon is considered a serious problem. It’s estimated that 1 in 10 teens will experience dating violence.
“A national survey found that 10% of teens, female and male, had been the victims of physical dating violence within the past year and approximately 29% of adolescents reported being verbally or psychologically abused.”Youth.gov
What Is Teen Dating Violence?
Teen dating violence (TDV) occurs between young people who are—or were—in an intimate relationship. At the heart of TDV is an attempt to gain or keep control over a partner. Forms of violence can be physical, sexual and/or emotional/psychological. Stalking is also a form of dating violence.
Some teens are at greater risk for TDV than others. Teens with non-heterosexual identities and teens in certain ethnic or racial groups suffer from dating violence at higher rates. Teens who grew up in violent households may see abusive behavior as acceptable, making it easier to accept violence and difficult to leave unhealthy relationships. Teens who suffer from PTSD or who have already been victimized may not recognize or respond to threats of danger.
Forms of TDV
Physical dating violence is intentional infliction of physical harm.In 2019, 8.2% of all US high school students experienced physical dating violence—9.3% of female and 7% of male students. Rates were higher for Native American, Hispanic and multiple-race populations and for students with non-heterosexual orientations, especially those unsure of their sexual identity (16.9%). Physical violence usually leaves visible evidence and can cause injury or, in extreme cases, death. Examples include:
- Hitting, shoving, or restraining someone—any unwanted touching
- Spitting, biting, scratching, choking or kicking
- Hair pulling or throwing things at partners
- Grabbing clothing or someone’s face to make them look at the perpetrator
- Using or threatening to use a weapon
- Preventing a partner from leaving or forcing them to go somewhere
Sexual dating violenceis any type of unwanted sexual contact. In 2019, 8.2% of all high school students experienced sexual dating violence. Rates were higher for female students (12.6%), non-white and multiple-race populations, and for bisexual (18.8%) students and those unsure of their sexual identity (15%). Behaviors include:
- Unwanted kissing or touching, up to and including assault and rape
- Sexting, sharing sexual pictures of a partner without their consent or forcing them to watch pornography
- Refusing to use, or let their partner use, birth control or protection against infection
- Threatening or pressuring someone to have sex or sexual contact when someone is incapable of granting consent because they are intoxicated or unconscious
Psychological and emotional violence harmsa partner with intimidation, insults and attempts to control. Studies have found that about 75% of teens and young adults have experienced emotional or psychological dating violence. Abuse includes:
- Shaming, bullying and intentionally embarrassing partners
- Reading partners’ emails and texts, excessive checking in and texting
- Isolating partners from friends and family, telling them what to do or wear
- Yelling or screaming at partners, calling them names, criticizing
- Gaslighting, blaming unhealthy behavior on partners
- Threatening harm to partners, their loved ones or themselves; threatening to expose personal details
- Starting rumors, damaging partners’ property, irrational jealousy
Stalking is following, watching and/or harassing partners, making them feel afraid for their own safety or those they are close to. One in 6 women and 1 in 17 men will experience stalking during their lifetime; 21% of women and 13% of men are under age 18 when it happens for the first time. Examples of stalking behavior include:
- Showing up unannounced or uninvited, or waiting for partners outside class or work
- Sending unwanted texts, letters, emails or gifts
- Repeated calls and hang-ups; making unwanted calls to teachers, employers and loved ones
- Using social media or other means to track partners’ activities
- Damaging partners’ property, home or car
Teens are often afraid to tell anyone what’s happening to them. Parents, friends and teachers can find warning signs of TDV in teens’ excuses for abusive partners and in partner behavior. Teens may also become isolated and lose interest in favorite activities if they’re being abused.
“Violence experienced as a child or adolescent is a risk factor for repeated victimization as an adult.”CDC.gov
Safety should be a first priority; stopping the abuse and getting help are crucial. Violent relationships can have severe consequences for victims, both short- and long-term:
- Depression, anxiety and PTSD
- Unhealthy behaviors like risky sexual activity and use of tobacco, drugs and alcohol
- Antisocial behaviors like theft, lying, bullying or fighting
- Eating disorders, pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases
- Thoughts about suicide
Victims may do poorly in school, often because they don’t feel safe enough to attend or skip school to hide injuries. Symptoms of distress can also include headaches, stomach aches, nightmares and trouble sleeping or concentrating. Women who have experienced rape, stalking or physical violence are more likely later in life to suffer irritable bowel syndrome, asthma and diabetes.
Cultivating Healthy Relationships
Teen victims of dating violence are at greater risk of being victimized later in life, or possibly becoming perpetrators themselves. Besides addressing abuse at home, learning safe, healthy relationship skills helps disrupt the cycle of partner violence. Skills include learning how to manage feelings, problem solve and communicate in healthy ways. The hallmarks of a healthy relationship are respect, honesty, trust, equality and compromise. Disagreements may arise, but it’s important to maintain respect for partners and take a break when things get too heated.
Any kind of abuse is wrong, and it should be taken seriously. Teens deserve to have healthy, loving relationships. Our counselors at Best Day are ready to help teens and parents address issues caused by dating violence and get everyone on the path to a better future.
Love Is Respect offers support to young people and those who care about them. Access their many website resources or text, chat or call with questions or concerns about intimate relationships.
Youth.gov provides information and solutions for dating violence prevention, including links to other resources.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides support 24/7 by phone and chat to victims of violence and their loved ones, as well as to perpetrators.
How We Can Help You?
Best Day Psychiatry and Counseling is here to help you have a better day and find a better way. We treat a wide range of psychiatric conditions for both children and adults. Contact us today, we’re ready to help:
Charlotte: (980) 867-4440• Durham: (919) 659-8686 • Fayetteville: (910) 323-1543
Fuquay-Varina: (919) 567-0684 • Greenville: (252) 375-3322 • Raleigh: (919) 670-3939
Wilmington: (910) 500-7072 • Winston-Salem: (336) 934-5556