The most common form of violence among youth is teen dating violence (TDV). An estimated 1 in 3 teenagers in the United States is a victim of sexual, emotional, verbal or physical abuse from a dating partner. Over 1 million high school students are physically abused by their partner.1
What is Teen Dating Violence?
Teen dating violence (TDV) is intimate partner violence that can take place both online and in person. The four main behavior types associated with TDV are: physical violence, sexual violence, psychological aggression and stalking. Physical violence occurs when a partner tries to hurt or succeeds in hurting you by hitting, kicking, or using other forms of physical force. Sexual violence is forcing or trying to force a partner to perform sexual acts or touching when the other partner has not or is not able to consent or refuse.1 This can also include non-physical sexual behavior such as posting and/or sharing sexual pictures of the partner without consent or sexting someone without their consent. Psychological aggression is another behavior associated with TDV that uses both verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to control a partner and hurt them mentally and/or emotionally.1 Stalking is the fourth behavior listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Disease Prevention (CDC). Stalking is defined as a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention and/or contact by a partner (current or former) that causes fear or safety concerns.2 Over 3 million women and almost 1 million men have their first experience with stalking before turning 18.1
Prevalence and Effects of Teen Dating Violence
About 19% of teenagers in the United States experience sexual and/or physical dating violence. Almost
65% report being psychologically abused and approximately 50% encounter stalking or harassment.3 Across many studies, males are more likely to engage in sexual violence, while females are more likely to engage in psychological violence.3 Experiencing any form of teen dating violence can have many negative short and long term effects. One study done in the United Kingdom reported that teens who experience sexual violence before the age of 17, had a worsened state of mental health by age 17. Any level of involvement in teen dating violence can potentially lead to intimate partner violence in adulthood and high-risk behaviors such as alcohol and drug use.3
Early Warning Signs of an Abusive Partner
There can be many signs that you and your partner are engaging in teen dating violence. However, the line between caring for and controlling someone can be blurred. The list below outlines unhealthy and abusive behaviors to consider in relationships. Understand that you and/or your partner should NOT:
1. Demand details about how, where and who you spend time with.
It is fine to express interest in your partner’s activities, but demanding details and limiting them in activities is unhealthy.
2. Touch without permission.
Touching without permission can be considered as ignoring boundaries. Suppose your partner continuously touches you (pinching, grabbing, etc) or insists on public displays of affection after you have expressed that you are uncomfortable with it. This can also be seen as unhealthy behavior. Coercion or pressuring you to engage in physical activity is also not healthy. An example of this would be threatening to leave the relationship if you do not sleep with the, or pressuring someone to “prove” their sexuality.
3. Criticize beliefs or ideologies.
It is not healthy for your partner to put you down or belittle your belief system. Having a difficult conversation about a difference in beliefs can be challenging, but also fair in healthy relationship building tactics. However, if that conversation leads toward your partner telling you that your thoughts or opinions are unimportant, that is unhealthy. 4
How Can Teen Dating Violence (TDV) be Prevented?
Teen dating violence is preventable. It is important that pre-teens and teens develop skills such as communication and emotional management that will help them create and maintain healthy relationships. For this to occur, a combination of youth leaders, parents, schools and various community organizations need to come together to:
- Teach safe and healthy relationship skills
- Create protective environments
- Break the developmental pathways that lead to intimate partner violence
- Support the teen dating violence survivors to increase safety and reduce harms
To help start conversations, the CDC has created a campaign entitled, Dating Matters, which includes, PSAs and toolkits to help in this endeavor.
Support for Anybody Who May Be Experiencing Teen Dating Violence
Teen dating violence can be a challenging subject to discuss. If you or someone you love is involved in an unhealthy relationship, here are some resources:
- In case of immediate danger, call 911
- Contact the organization Love is Respect
- A confidential hotline service Available by text (“LOVEIS” to 22522), call (866-331-9474), or live chat online.http://www.loveisrespect.org/
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available for anyone seeking resources and information about unhealthy relationships.
- 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
- Text “START” to 88788
- You can talk to someone from the National Sexual Assault Hotline online in English or Spanish
- 800-656-HOPE (4673)
Parents Can Help
Finding out that your child has been in an unhealthy relationship can be very concerning for parents. Here are seven tips from the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s Love is Respect initiative to help.5
- Listen and give support
- Accept what your child is telling you
- Show concern
- Focus on behaviors and not the person involved
- Avoid ultimatums
- Be prepared
- Decide on next steps together
Be as supportive as you can by teaching your child the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship before they begin engaging in relationships. Be a source of comfort and support for your child by opening conversations about relationships. Be attentive and pay attention to warning signs. Ask how things are going and explain that you notice certain changes. Your child may or may not open up to you at first, but if you continue to show your interest in a caring way, he or she may tell you in time. Reaching out to a specialized therapist to assist your child in opening up and discussing their experiences. If you find out that your child is being abused, don’t try to handle the situation on your own. Effective action will likely require the help of someone at the school, a professional counselor, and possibly even the police. You might encourage your child to contact a service such as the National Dating Abuse Hotline (at www.loveisrespect.org or 1-866-331-9474).
Written by: Taylor Neither, MPH
Blog Expertly Reviewed by: Dr. Krista Mincey, MPH, Dr.PH, MCHES
- Smith, S. G., Chen, J., Basile, K. C., Gilbert, L. K., Merrick, M. T., Patel, N., Walling, M., & Jain, A. (2017). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010-2012 State Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- CDC(2023). https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teendatingviolence/fastfact.html
- APA. (2023). https://www.apa.org/monitor/2023/10/disrupting-teen-dating-violence
- RAINN. (2017). https://www.rainn.org/news/early-warning-signs-dating-violence
- Love is Respect. https://www.loveisrespect.org/resources/how-to-help-child/
- CDC. (2019). https://vetoviolence.cdc.gov/apps/dating-matters-toolkit/