Dating Abuse/Violence in Teenagers


February is National Teen Dating Abuse/Violence Awareness month. Dating abuse is a controlling behaviour in which the girl/boyfriend uses to gain control over his/her partner. Teen dating violence (TDV) affects millions of teenagers globally and is a type of intimate partner violence that can happen in person and/or electronically e.g. sexting, posting sexual pictures without consent.

There are four types of dating abuse/violence:

  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Psychological
  • Stalking

Many teenagers think that behaviours such as name calling, teasing, pushing, controlling prove love and are a normal part of being in a relationship. Sadly, these behaviours are indicative of an unhealthy relationship and can escalate to abuse and violence. In the USA, the CDC Youth Risk Behaviour Survey and the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that 1 in 15 male and 1 in 11 female students reported experiencing physical dating violence in the past year, and 1 in 36 male and 1 in 9 female students experienced sexual dating violence. Unfortunately, many teenagers do not report dating abuse because they are either afraid of losing their girl/boyfriend or afraid of the repercussions. 


  • 1 in 11 teens experience repeated and deliberate physical abuse
  • 1 in 5 teens experience deliberate and constant emotional abuse
  • 1 in 3 teens experience deliberate, repeated sexual abuse
  • 1 in 3 teens who were in an abusive/bullying relationship NEVER told anyone about the abuse
  • 2 out of 3 parents claim dating violence and abuse is not a problem for their teen
  • 1 in 10 high school students are purposefully and repeatedly hit, slapped, kicked, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend
  • 1 in 3 teenagers in the USA is a victim of repeated and deliberate physical/sexual/emotional and/or verbal abuse/bullying from a dating partner
  • 80% of girls who have been physically abused continue to date the abuser
  • 1 in 4 teens say that they have been pressured to only spend time with their partner
  • 1 in 5 girls said a boyfriend threatened violence if they broke up

Teens at Risk of Experiencing Dating Abuse

Girls and young women ages 16 to 24 years old experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence. This is almost triple the national average. Sexual minority groups and some racial groups are also disproportionately affected by all forms of dating abuse/violence. Other factors which may increase the risk of a teen being abused include:

  • Low self-esteem, depressed
  • Participate in risky behaviors
  • Begin dating at an early age
  • Have a friend who is dating an abuser
  • Believes that dating violence is acceptable
  • Participates in early sexual activity
  • History of childhood abuse/trauma
  • Exposed to harsh parenting or parental neglect
  • Has a physical/learning disability
  • Exhibits problem behaviors and/or is aggressive and angry in manner
  • Has maladaptive or antisocial type behaviors
  • Uses emotional disengagement, confrontation or blaming as coping strategies

LGBTQ Teens and Dating Violence

When we discuss major issues facing LGBTQ, concerns like hate crimes, harassment, family rejection, and bullying spring to mind. However, LGBTQ teens can also be victims and perpetrators of dating abuse and violence. Abusive partners in LGBTQ relationships use the same tactics to gain power and control as teenagers in heterosexual relationships with one exception, an abusive LGBTQ teen may threaten to ‘out’ the victim to friends, family, etc. as a way of exerting power and control.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lesbians, bisexual females and gay males experience higher levels of intimate partner violence (42.8 percent) compared to heterosexual teenagers (29 percent) with transgender teens reporting the highest rates of physical dating violence (88.9 percent). Sexual victimization of LGBTQ teens is nearly double (42.8 percent) that of heterosexual teens (23.2 percent) whilst psychological abuse (59 percent) is only slightly higher compared to 46 percent in heterosexual relationships.

Who is the Dating Abuser?

Research has shown that many of the behaviors associated with perpetrating violence are evident before 10 years of age. Early physical aggression being one of the strongest predictors for later involvement in violent behavior (see ODD and CD in Blog 5 and DMDD in blog 10). Other risk factors that contribute to the likelihood of a teenager becoming a perpetrator of dating abuse/violence include:

  • Vulnerability to peer pressure
  • Poor and immature communication skills
  • Lack of parental supervision/support
  • Low self-esteem and depression
  • Possible substance abuse and/or mental disorder (NPD, ODD, CD, RAD) *
  • Anger management issues
  • Involved in risky behaviors e.g. crime, belongs to a gang
  • Witnesses abuse at home/community
  • Childhood abuse, neglect, mistreatment
  • Conditioned to believe that violence, threats, intimidation is an acceptable expression of love

Dangers of Remaining in an Abusive/Violent Relationship

Abusive, violent relationships can have severe consequences and both short-term and long-term effects on the developing teenager. Teenagers who are victims of dating abuse are more likely to:

  • Experience symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Exhibit behaviors such as lying, stealing, bullying, theft, self-harm
  • Engage in risky behaviors such as smoking, taking drugs/alcohol, sexually promiscuous
  • Think about suicide
  • Be at higher risk of victimization and abuse during college and throughout life

An interesting fact is that 2 out of 3 parents say dating violence and abuse is not a problem for their kids and 82 percent of parents state they could recognize if their teen was being abused, yet more than half could not identify the warning signs.

Warning signs of an abusive relationship:

  • Extreme jealousy or insecurity
  • Checking your phone, email without permission
  • Isolating you from friends/family
  • Makes false accusations, tells lies about you
  • Easily angered and agitated
  • Physically and/or sexually hurting you in person or electronically
  • Telling you what to do, who to see, what to wear
  • Possessiveness, follows you
  • Constantly putting you down, criticizing
  • Gaslighting – doing/saying things to make you think you are losing your mind

How Can We Help?

The message to any teenager involved in an abusive relationship is to tell someone, document the abuse and leave the relationship. Sadly, for many teens it is not that easy. It is imperative that a trusted adult is involved e.g. parent, guardian especially as depending on the type of abuse, police involvement may be necessary.

  • Know the warning signs of abuse
  • Remain calm, be responsive, not reactive
  • Talk with your teen – listen, be supportive, non-judgemental, believe him/her, show love
  • Express concern, let him/her know it is not his/her fault, explain the behaviour is not healthy
  • Respect your teens feelings for abuser, do not threaten or give ultimatums, help teenager understand the abuse is wrong and that you are concerned for his/her safety
  • Discuss the key components of a healthy relationship
  • Ask teen what he/she wants to do. Offer guidance and support
  • Encourage teen to talk with school counsellor or peer advocate.
  • Provide resources and websites on dating violence that can help your teen understand what is happening:;;;
  • Strategize a plan if teen decides to end the relationship
  • Current evidence suggests that social-emotional programs for youth can prevent intimate partner violence perpetration and victimization. Talk to your school, church, community youth club about hosting a course e.g. Safe Dates; The Fourth R: Strategies for Healthy Teen Relationships; Expect Respect Support Groups; Green Dot; Coaching Boys Into Men

*NPD Narcissistic Personality Disorder Blog#32; CD Conduct Disorder Blog#5; RAD Reactive Attachment Disorder Blog#12

CDC Youth Risk Behaviour Survey and the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey

In my next Blog #36

I will discuss FOMO in children and teenagers

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