Teen Dating Violence – What It Looks Like And What We Can Do About It

Teen Dating Violence - What it Looks Like and What We Can Do About It

Violence amongst teenage dating is a huge social issue that affects millions of young people around the world. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 12  U.S. high school students experienced dating violence – whether physical or sexual. Teen dating violence (TDV) can alter the way one develops, leaving lost lasting effects on identity, sexuality, and intimacy.

Things to look out for

There are multiple signs to look out for with teen dating. Not only when you’re the one in the relationship but also as a bystander during an abusive situation. Romantic relationships are frequently accompanied by jealousy and communication issues – both of which are leading factors to dating violence.

Some things to look out for:

  • invasion of privacy
  • sudden mood changes
  • controlling behaviors and threats

Abuse usually tends to become worse over time, and being able to point out negative behaviors early on in a relationship can help reduce TDV.


We can work collectively to help prevent teen dating violence by bringing more awareness to an issue that isn’t frequently discussed.

As a role model, you can display healthy relationships and boundaries for the teenagers in your life. With the norm being shared that abusive behavior is not tolerated, a message can be sent out to teens who may not be aware of their situation or have a place to express themselves and safely share their experiences.

It is common for behaviors seen in real life, on TV, and at home to be normalized into habits and expectations. Having an intentional conversation about the realities of domestic violence is vital to equip young people with the tools to identify negative behaviors and build positive relationships.

Creating/joining safe environments/communities and seeking help is the most effective way to get out of an abusive relationship. It is important to remember you are never alone – resources are always available. Whether through programs, friends, or family, there is always help accessible to you.

Other articles related to Teen Dating Violence

Preventing Teen Dating Violence

What is Teen-Dating Violence?

According to the CDC, 1 in 8 female and 1 in 26 male students in high school have been a victim of some type of teen-dating violence in the last twelve months.  This could be physical violence, sexual violence, psychological aggression, or stalking.  This is a huge problem, but it can also fly under-the-radar, because of our skewed views on what constitutes abuse, and violence.

Every generation sees dating evolve in different ways.  This means that the social norms of a parent’s generation are rarely the same by the time their child is preparing to date.  Technology has put those changing generational norms on steroids.  Teenagers today are dealing with social media; which allows for a greater level of social pressure and more access for someone looking to stalk a fellow teen. 

So many parents have been molded by the media to misjudge the real threat.  For example, the National Institute of Justice states that, “About 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women are perpetrated by someone known to the victim; about half occur on a date.” 

These numbers are fairly similar throughout the world of abuse.  We have been programmed to believe that the rapist, or abuser is going to be waiting in a shadowy alley at 3 a.m.  While we can always be vigilant (even though we should expect that all women be able to feel safe, we know that is not always the case), teen-dating violence, and all other forms of abuse are way more likely to come from someone the victim already knows.  Most women are actually more likely to be a victim of violence on the dinner-and-movie date, than on the walk home from it.

This is where some parents can tend to miss the clear signs of teen-dating violence, under no fault of their own.  They are looking for the stranger who tries to groom, and infiltrate the safe-space created for the child.  What is often the more pressing concern is the people we invite into the safe-spaces. 

Catching the Signs

Technology is amazing.  During the peak of the pandemic lockdown, technology was able to give us some of our only interpersonal interactions.  Many teens are social creatures, so this gave them an outlet to communicate with friends, and avoid loneliness in a time of increased anxiety.  It has also created communication protocols that are completely foreign to people from older generations.

As mentioned earlier, the CDC lists stalking as one of the key examples of teen-dating violence.  They define stalking as, “a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone close to the victim.”

It is important to focus on some key terms in that definition.  “Unwanted attention” means that it lacks consent.  This distinction frames stalking in a way that can be viewed outside the parameters of technology and social media.  Younger people tend to communicate a lot.  A parent doesn’t want to be the boy who cried wolf when a teenager is engaged in perfectly innocent interactions.  Just like Generation X had two-hour phone conversations in the 80s and 90s, teens today have back-and-forth texting for hours.  Stalking isn’t the frequency of the interaction; it is the result of that interaction.

“Contact by a partner that causes fear or concern over one’s own safety” is a clear and definitive line of demarcation.  As adults, making sure that we let teenagers know that there are safe outlets to look for help when they feel uncomfortable is vital to safety.  It also requires trust in the teenager.  An adult may hear that phone buzz repeatedly throughout most evenings, and think that it is annoying.  It may seem like stalking behavior to an adult, who is far removed from healthy teenage dating.  If the teen feels comfortable and safe in that interaction, however, intervening could make that teen more cautious in reaching out for help when it a social relationship does cross a personal boundary.

Trust is the Key

Megan Alpine manages the Teen Outreach Program for Family Service in Roanoke Valley in Virginia.  In a recent conversation with WDBJ television in Roanoke, she suggested, “Especially for parents with their teens, to just be checking in and reminding them you are a nonjudgmental person they can turn to and just listen if they want to talk to you.”

The biggest key in preventing teen-dating violence may just be developing a level of trust between parents and teens.  Being “nonjudgmental” can be hard.  A parent who “never liked him in the first place,” needs to avoid the urge to say, “I told you so.”  Any victim of abuse, from young children to seniors, may only reach out for help once.  They need to know there will be no judgement. 

In a realization that may be very difficult for some people of older generations, they are going to have to establish that trust around issues of sex and sexual activity.  This trust is established at a very young age, by allowing children the ability to reject physical contact, even if it hurts an adult’s feelings.  It also requires communication that allows teenagers to be open about consensual sexual interactions.

The prime example would be a teen girl who engages in some consensual sexual activity with a boyfriend.  At some point, the boyfriend tries to pressure her to do something sexually that exceeds her comfort zone.  For that girl to be able to reach out to her parents, she needs to know that she will not be judged for the consensual activity.  She needs to be able to establish the lines for herself, and those decisions need to be universally accepted.  If she is afraid to tell a parent, teacher, or some other person in a position of power that she did willingly engage in some sexual contact, she will be less likely to talk about actual violence or abuse she has experienced.

Abuse Breeds Abuse

The CDC has created a fantastic booklet, “Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan: A Technical Package of Programs, Policies, and Practices.”  You can find a link to the packet with the other reference links to this blog.

As one would imagine, the booklet explicitly advises that, “Experience with many other forms of violence puts people at risk for perpetrating and experiencing IPV. Children who are exposed to IPV between their parents or caregivers are more likely to perpetrate or experience IPV, as are individuals who experience abuse and neglect as children.”

The absolute best way adults, especially parents, can prevent teen-dating violence is to have healthy relationships with mutual respect.  This shows children how healthy relationships are supposed to look, and what to expect from a potential dating partner. 

The CDC goes on to stay that, “Recognizing and addressing the interconnections among the different forms of violence will help us better prevent all forms of violence.”

Men who abuse their spouses or partners; parents who abuse their children; and childhood bullies who are allowed to continue to berate vulnerable classmates are all indirectly causing teen-dating violence.  These factors are not an excuse for anybody to commit acts of abuse, but it is important for both parties in a dating relationship to understand what does and does not constitute abuse.  If something is presented as normal to a child, he will believe that he can act that way towards a potential dating interest.  If someone witnesses that kind of treatment towards others as a child, she may not realize that it is abuse when it happens to her. 

Dating Matters

The CDC has created a course called “Dating Matters” with the right approach to attacking teen-dating violence.  Instead of trying to reach the teens when they are already starting to think about dating, and may already be sexually active, this course is intended for eleven-to-fourteen-year-old kids. 

“Dating Matters is an evidence-based teen dating violence prevention model that includes prevention strategies for individuals, peers, families, schools, and neighborhoods. It focuses on teaching 11–14-year-olds healthy relationship skills before they start dating and reducing behaviors that increase the risk for dating violence, like substance abuse and sexual risk-taking.”

You can also find a link to this program to help develop that communication and trust, before it is going to be an issue.  Preventative medicine is the real key to physical health, and that is the same thing when trying to foster healthy relationships. 

Healthy Relationships

Teenage dating can be an important and formative experience in the life of a person.  It is very unlikely that the person you date as a freshman in high school will be your life-long romantic partner, but those experiences can still be incredibly positive.  Being aware of teen-dating violence should not be used as a tool to scare parents into locking their kids away from the world.  Just like with a lot of things in a teenager’s life, it is just important that everyone is aware of the potential risks.  A sixteen-year-old needs to study to learn how to drive.  A senior in high school has to do research into a potential career or college.  A teenager who is preparing to enter the dating world should also be properly prepared for the experience.  That way, it can be the positive, affirming, and exciting experience that every teenager deserves.

Sources used for this blog can be located at the following links:






To be the teen…

To be a teen, you have to self-reflect, emphasize, sympathize, and show compassion.

“But if you are the teen, then what do you do”?

Some are oblivious to this hurt when it happens to them or passive-aggressive because of fear.

To be the teen means you have been a teen before that lost trust in someone close to you. That trust was mishandled and violated that occasionally went unspoken because of who they were and amongst. Some people looked HIGHLY upon them. So at what cost would it bare to be the teen that tells the truth? What picture would it repaint for the person trying to silence their truth?

Sure some resources could help them suppress their feelings and pacify their emotions for the moment. But what about on the nights their mind wonders, and their days darken. What empathy or sympathy would they have been given to provide such comfort amid tarnished innocence?

“Who would believe them in that aspect of empathy enough to provide the comfort they needed after facing such detrimental levels of trust?

To be a teen, you’d have to be a friend, family member, or a parent to say “I was that teen, and I understand”!

To go invisible sometimes, only to be recognized for my strange behavior or as others commonly say, “acting out”, can you truly say you were a teen before?

I was born with a cry that only my parents heard in the delivery room. Presently my cry is even louder because I am the teen that broke my silence “To Be The Teen” who stands for other teens! 

Teen Dating Violence Awareness: Krista’s Story

Teen Dating Violence is real.  No matter the age, it can make life decisions even more difficult, when you are put in a situation of fear. 

The first time my high school sweetheart put hands on my throat I was 17 years old. He apologized and made it very clear it wouldn’t ever happen again.  Fast forward to July 2020 when that same high school sweetheart and now my husband of 18 years put those same hands around my throat and almost took my life.  It took me 23 years to get brave, 23 years to know that it wasn’t love, 23 years to realize I was worth so much more.  I regret never speaking up to my parents and asking for help. I do not regret my 2 beautiful boys, who are now teenagers themselves.  They were subject to family violence their whole lives.  What I couldn’t understand is how my then 17-year-old and 14-year-old knew that it wasn’t okay, but the 17-year-old me couldn’t understand it wasn’t okay.  I know that if I had understood there was help out there, I think my decisions to get away from the situation would have been better.

I know now that I am worth more than the bruises and excuses. I am worth more than feeling second. I am worth more than lies and betrayal. I am worth more than ER visits. I am worth more than telling my children, “Dad, was just upset. I will be okay. Let’s not tell anyone this happened.” If you are a teenager and you are being hurt, know your worth, ask for help, get into a safe environment, and know that you are worth more. I hope that the abuse I took, can be turned into a positive note to help others that need to get out.  Find your bravery and love yourself. 

Happy doesn’t hurt nor is it supposed to. If I could only go back to 17-year-old me and give the same advice, I would have listened. Love isn’t supposed to hurt. God put me on this Earth, just as everyone else to be loved, not abused.

Advocating for Teens in a Domestic Violence Relationship


Our relationship started as a happy one. He was charming, a track star, and showered me with attention. We were teens and high school sweethearts, and I thought we would stay that way forever.

I still remember the first time he was violent towards me. We were arguing, and he pushed me into a snowbank. I got up, and we continued walking as if nothing happened. Things only escalated from there. 

It was my first relationship. I thought I was in love. I didn’t know love wasn’t supposed to hurt. It was hard to leave– despite the abuse, my feelings for this boy were strong, although misconstrued. I stayed in the relationship for the first year of college before I was able to break free.

Being young and confused, I didn’t know what love was supposed to feel like or look like. I thought abusive relationships affected isolated adults stuck in unhappy marriages, not valedictorians with plans to attend college. It would honestly be a long time before I could look back on the relationship and see it for what it was– toxic, abusive, and far from love. 

I’m still healing from this abusive relationship that began when I was 16. I’m still trying to understand my emotions and learn what a healthy relationship is seven years later. 

Teen Dating Violence Survivor

What is Teen Dating Violence (TDV)? 

Teen dating violence, also known as dating violence, is abuse between two people in an intimate relationship between the ages of 13-19 [1]

Dating violence does not have to be physical abuse; it can include [2]:

  • Physical violence—  intentional acts of physical violence, like shoving, kicking, hitting, grabbing, choking, restraining. 
  • Sexual Violence— forcing or attempting to engage in a sexual act, such as intercourse, touching, or sexting without receiving consent.
  • Psychological aggression (verbal/emotional)— tactics used to harm the victim emotionally. This can include name-calling, isolating the victim from family and friends, attempting to control the victim, and manipulation. 
  • Stalking— a pattern of unwanted attention that causes, or would reasonably cause, the victim fear

This is not an exhaustive list. Any time a person is intentionally causing harm to their intimate partner, it can be considered abuse. No one should feel afraid in their relationship or fear their intimate partner– that is NOT normal. 

How common is TDV? 

Teen dating violence affects millions of US teenagers each year. While TDV, like most violent crime types, disproportionately affects females, anyone can be a victim of TDV [2]

  • One in three people will experience some type of intimate partner abuse before they reach adulthood [3].
  • According to a CDC survey, 1 in 11 females and 1 in 15 males under 18 reported experiencing physical dating violence in the last year [2].
  • One in 9 female and 1 in 36 male high schoolers report having experienced sexual violence in the last year from an intimate partner [2]
  • LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk for TDV victimization. Forty-three percent of LGBTQ+ youth reported experiencing physical dating violence compared to 29% of heterosexual youth [4]
  • Transgender youth, predominantly female, report the highest levels of TDV, with 89% of transgender youth reporting physical dating violence and 59% reporting emotional abuse [4].

The Impact on Teens

TDV, just like domestic violence, is ruthless, and the road to recovery is often long and uphill. This is why it is an issue that should not be minimized and, instead, should be taken as seriously as intimate partner violence in adults. As seen in the survivor story above, it can affect survivors long after leaving the abusive relationship. And for some victims of TDV, the consequences can affect every aspect of their teen years. 

Victims/survivors of TDV are more likely to:

  • Miss or receive low grades in classes due to feeling unsafe [5]
  • Become pregnant or contract an STD [5]
  • Engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking, drugs, or disordered eating [2]
  • Attempt or commit suicide [5]
  • Have lowered self-esteem [5]
  • Continue a pattern of abusive relationships [2]
  • Face mental health issues, like depression and anxiety [2]
  • Have trouble maintaining independence and establishing a personal identity in adulthood [5]

Advocating For Your Teen

Teenage years are meant for the giddy feeling of butterflies in the stomach. Many teens are experiencing their first relationship and learning what it means to be “in love.” Young relationships can set a precedent for their future relationships and their perception of what love is. 

That is why one of the most effective ways of preventing teen dating violence is showing your teen or teens in your life what a healthy relationship should look and feel like while also opening up the discussion about what an unhealthy relationship looks like.

Characteristics of a healthy relationship:

  • Respect. Both partners should like their feelings and wishes are valued and understood by their partner.
  • Individual Identities. Both partners should have lives outside of the relationship. This includes spending time with friends, engaging in hobbies, and pursuing their interests. Partners should maintain, or even grow, their self-esteem when in the relationship. 
  • Openness and Trust. Both partners should feel comfortable being honest with each other and have trust in each other. 
  • Good Communication. Each partner should communicate with the other freely, without fear, and without getting hostile. Intimate partners should not ever resort to violence or name-calling when disagreeing and work together to solve problems. 

Characteristics of an unhealthy relationship:

  • Controlling behavior/Jealousy. One partner attempts to exploit the other partner. This can mean keeping him/her from seeing family members and friends, dictating what he/she wears and does, and making the majority of choices for the relationship.
  • Hostility/Intimidation. An intimate partner using intimidation or hostility to manipulate the other member of the relationship. 
  • Dependence (Trauma Bond). When an intimate partner feels as if he/she cannot live without the other partner. They feel entirely reliant on their partner and cannot imagine life without them. 
  • Any type of violence. Intimate partners intentionally hurting or attempting to harm each other in any way. This can include physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse. 

**For information about what a healthy teenage relationship should look like, check out Dating Matters— a prevention model put forth by the CDC for educational use by individuals, peers, families, schools, and neighborhoods.

Receiving Help for Teens in an Abusive Relationship

For teenagers facing the dangerous reality of being in a toxic or abusive relationship, know you are not alone, and there are resources to help you reach the pathway of healing. 

First of all, we encourage you to break your silence. Speak up to a peer, teacher, parent, law enforcement officer, or anyone else you trust. You can contact our helpline at 1-855-287-1777 or share your story

You can also contact organizations within the community:

Find a Safe Place— you can enter your zip code and find a safe place near you. 

The National Dating Abuse Helpline 1.866.331.9474 is similar to the Hotline and specializes in assisting teens and young adults. 

National Center for Victims of Crime 1-800-FYI-CALL– serves victims of crime and assists them in finding proper counseling services. 

Break the Cycle— for more information about teen dating violence and how to break the cycle. 

Remember: Everyone deserves a loving and healthy relationship. No matter what your age is.


  1. Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. (n.d.). What is teen dating violence TDV. https://www.mocadsv.org/What-is-Teen-Dating-Violence-TDV/
  2. CDC. (2020, Jan 27). Preventing teen dating violence. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teendatingviolence/fastfact.html
  3. Love is Respect. (n.d.) Teen dating violence awareness month. https://www.loveisrespect.org/get-involved/tdvam/
  4. Teen Dating Violence. (2020, Oct 28). Studies show LGBT youth face higher risk of dating violence. https://www.teendvmonth.org/studies-show-lgbt-youth-face-higher-risk-of-dating-violence/
  5. Youth.gov. (n.d.) Consequences. https://youth.gov/youth-topics/teen-dating-violence/consequences

Navigating Safety: Developing a Safety Plan with Teens

Like domestic violence, teen dating violence is controlling behavior. According to DoSomething.org, violent behavior begins between 6th and 12th grade and 72% of young people are already dating by the time they are 13 to 14 years old. At this stage of life when youth are lacking significant experience in the dating world, it is not uncommon for peers to pressure eventual abusers into violent behavior.

Simultaneously, the teenage years stand out as a time where the views that young people have about love are highly romanticized. Young women often hold misguided beliefs that normalize abuse because “everyone is doing it.” A teenage girl may even misinterpret possessive and jealous behaviors or physical abuse as an expression of passion and romance. This isn’t helped by the cultural belief that leads young men to believe that being aggressive is masculine. Behaving otherwise will cause them to lose respect among their peers. Developing a safety plan with teens can help you keep them safe.

Fortunately, there are signs which indicate that a teenager is experiencing dating violence. They may become isolated and begin using alcohol and substances. You might notice visible physical injuries or clues of pregnancy. Personality changes and emotional outbursts are also common indicators to look for.

According to Break the Cycle, safety planning with a teen can help them identify their support systems, connect them to school and community resources, and empower them to take control of their lives back. Teenagers have the right to feel safe and be in relationships free of violence.

Creating a safety plan

The abuse is never the victim’s fault and making the decision to leave an abusive partner can be both difficult and dangerous for people of any age. The abuser may react violently when they realize that their control is falling apart. If you feel that your safety is at risk, developing a safety plan with your teens helps them to get the support they need safely exit the relationship. Here are some recommendations for teen safety planning:

• Talk to a family member, friend or teacher that you trust. Talk to someone trained at National Dating Abuse Hotline (866-331-9474) if you need a place to stay.

• Do not break up in person if you don’t feel safe. If you must, be sure to do so in a public place.

• Decide on a secret, safe location for someone to pick you up. Keep your tank full of gas if you own a vehicle. If using public transportation, learn the route to safety via bus or train.

• Trust your instincts and think for yourself. Avoid allowing anyone to talk you into doing what isn’t right for you.

• If you live with your partner, keep a bag of important items to take with you: cellphone and charger, license/ID, cash & ATM cards, any protective orders you may have, and a clean change of clothes.

• If you are leaving with children, be sure that they have a few essentials as well. Anything they may need should be prepared. Some examples are spare clothes, favorite toy or blankie, birth certificate, health records, diapers, formula and bottles.

You have control over how to prepare for this. Think about action steps to take that are specific to your circumstance and based on your own needs. No one deserves to be abused. This is not your fault.

An online safety planning tool is available at loveisrespect.org

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our support line advocates at 855-287-1777.

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