Talking to Kids About Teen Dating Violence - Promise
Talking to Kids About Teen Dating Violence, Powered by Nemours Children's Health System

Talking to Kids About Teen Dating Violence

Teen Dating Violence, also known as TDV, is a type of intimate partner violence that happens between two teens in a close relationship. But TDV doesn’t just affect teenagers, though; it impacts families, teachers, friends and whole communities. That’s why it’s essential that parents, educators and health professionals talk to young people about the risks and consequences of the issue.

Teen Dating Violence Statistics

Teen Dating Violence is probably more common than you think. It affects millions of teens in the U.S. each year. Data from CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey provide some alarming statistics:

  • Youth age 12 to 19 experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault.
  • Nearly 1 in 11 female and approximately 1 in 15 male high school students have experienced physical dating violence in the last year.
  • About 1 in 9 female and 1 in 36 male high school students report having experienced sexual dating violence in the last year.
  • Both sexual minority groups and some racial/ethnic minority groups are more highly affected by all forms of violence.

There are several types of TDV behaviors:

  • Physical violence – trying to hurt or hurting a partner; includes physical force like hitting, kicking, etc.
  • Sexual violence – attempting to force or forcing a partner to take part in a sex act; includes sexual touching or a non-physical sexual event such as sexting when the partner does not or cannot consent.
  • Psychological aggression – using verbal and non-verbal communication intending to harm someone mentally or emotionally and/or exerting control over them.
  • Stalking – pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by someone that causes fear for their own safety or the safety of someone else.
  • Financial abuse — attempting to control a partner’s ability to earn money and spend it however they choose.

TDV can occur digitally, like in repeated texting or posting sexual pictures online without consent.

There are many reasons a teenager may stay in an abusive relationship, including:

  • Being afraid of their abuser
  • Not knowing whether a relationship is abusive-teens can sometimes think that behaviors like teasing or name-calling are part of a “normal” relationship
  • Being afraid of being outed if LGBTQ+
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed, or blaming themselves for the abuse
  • Worrying that no one will believe them
  • Caring about their abuser and hoping the relationship will improve
  • Believing that abuse is acceptable

The Effects of Teen Dating Violence

Early unhealthy relationships can develop into long-term patterns. 26% of women and 15% of men who were victims of contact sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime first experienced these or other forms of violence by that partner before age 18. In addition, people who have experienced dating violence in high school are at more likely to be victims in college.

Unhealthy, abusive or violent relationships in adolescence can have severe consequences and both short-and long-term negative effects. For example, victims of TDV are more likely to:

  • Experience symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Take part in unhealthy or risky behaviors, like using tobacco, drugs and alcohol
  • Show antisocial behaviors like lying, theft, bullying or hitting
  • Consider suicide

What You Can Do About TDV

Often, many teens that experience abuse are afraid or embarrassed to talk to family or friends about their situations. Here’s what family, caregivers, and the community can do to end teen dating violence.

Be an Example

When families demonstrate healthy relationships, children are less likely to be violent in relationships. If parents or caregivers are involved in an abusive relationship, they should get involved with a program to end that violence as soon as possible, or report abuse to the authorities.

End Violence Before It Begins

The best way to prevent TDV is by educating preteens and young teens about how to form healthy relationships. This includes teaching life skills like assertiveness, how to communicate effectively and how to have disagreements in a healthy and respectful way.

Provide Information

Initiate a conversation with your teens about relationships. You can use a scene from a movie, an excerpt from a book, or a news story to begin. Talk about what is and is not healthy in relationships, including topics related to sex. And actively listen to what your child has to say.

Recognize Warning Signs

Teach your kids that abusive relationships can begin with signs that many teens mistake for love. Common warning signs are acts of control like jealousy, persistent texting and calling, and insisting on being together whenever free. These relationships should be ended, even if apologies and promises are made. Controlling behaviors and violence usually do not improve or go away but instead repeat themselves.

Teach Teens to be Assertive

Talk to your teenagers and have them practice how to clearly state their feelings, opinions and desires. Empower them to say no to things they do not want to do.

Encourage Teenagers to Report Violent Behaviors

Talk to your children about what to do if they see a friend being abused. It’s best to tell a parent, teacher or school administrator if there is a threat of violence.

Know When to Get Involved

If you notice changes in your child’s behavior, mood, sleeping patterns, eating habits, or grades, it could be an early warning sign of teen dating violence. If your teen is being abused, do not try to handle the situation on your own. Effective plans for stopping an abusive relationship involve a team including you, a school professional, a health professional, and sometimes even the police.

If you are a preteen or teenager in an abusive relationship, or are the parent or friend of someone who is in an abusive relationship, seek support immediately. The National Dating Abuse Helpline is available 24/7 via text, phone, and live chat. Call 1-866-331-9474 or visit loveisrespect.org.

Leah Orchinik, PhD

About Leah Orchinik, PhD

Leah Orchinik, PhD, is a pediatric psychologist at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del.