Teen Dating Violence Awareness: Facts, Signs, Prevention

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Did you know that nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year[1] and that one in ten high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.[2] Teen dating violence is a serious problem affecting adolescents across the nation, and it is an issue that often goes overlooked or unrecognized.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month, and we’re joining the cause to get the word out about what teenagers, parents, teachers, and community members can do to be aware of and prevent teen dating violence.

Definition, Facts, and Statistics

Teen dating violence is defined as “a pattern of abuse or threat of abuse against teenaged dating partners, occurring in different forms, including verbal, emotional, physical, sexual and digital.”[3]

Relationship violence among teenagers is increasingly common, with some researchers reporting that one in ten high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.[4] This abuse begins early, often before the age of eighteen or in early adulthood, as more than half of women (69.5%) and men (53.6%) who have been physically or sexually abused, or stalked by a dating partner, first experienced abuse between the ages of 11-24.[5]

Furthermore, abuse and violence within the dating relationship can have a serious detrimental impact on the victims. “It can negatively influence the development of healthy sexuality, intimacy, and identity as youth grow into adulthood and can increase the risk of physical injury, poor academic performance, binge drinking, suicide attempts, unhealthy sexual behaviors, substance abuse, negative body image and self-esteem, and violence in future relationships.”[6]

However, while the statistics clearly demonstrate the severity of the problem, many people simply aren’t aware of its prevalence or its impact. Eighty-one percent of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue.[7]


There are several different types of teen dating abuse and violent relationships can involve one or more of these types of abuse, including:

  • • Emotional/Verbal Abuse: involves non-physical behaviors such as insults, threats, shouting, isolation, and constant monitoring.
  • • Physical Abuse: includes any kind of physical behavior that is designed to inflict pain, dominate, intimidate, cause fear, or harm in any way, such as hitting, choking, or pushing.
  • • Financial Abuse: centers around the exertion of power and control through finances, such as controlling or withholding money or preventing the partner from earning money.
  • • Sexual Abuse: includes any sexual activity that occurs without willing, active, unimpaired consent, such as sexual assault and tampering with contraceptives.
  • • Digital Abuse: the use of technology to threaten, stalk, intimidate, or bully a partner through digital means, such as social media, texting, tracking programs, etc.
  • • Stalking: repeatedly following, watching, monitoring, or harassing a partner online or in person.[8]


Warning Signs and How to Recognize It

Every relationship is different and teen relationships, which are often fraught with drama and high emotion, can be dynamic and intense. However, knowing the warning signs of dating violence is important to help teens, parents, and teachers recognize abusive behaviors.

Early warning signs of dating violence include:

  • • Checking one’s partner’s cell phones, emails or social networks without permission
  • • Extreme jealousy or insecurity
  • • Constant belittling or put-downs
  • • Explosive temper
  • • Isolation of one’s partner from family and friends
  • • Making false accusations
  • • Erratic mood swings
  • • Physically inflicting pain in any way
  • • Possessiveness
  • • Repeatedly pressuring one’s partner to have sex[9]


Prevention and Intervention

While it is clearly a significant issue, “[t]een dating violence can be prevented, especially when there is a focus on reducing risk factors as well as fostering protective factors, and when teens are empowered through family, friends, and others (including role models such as teachers, coaches, mentors, and youth group leaders) to lead healthy lives and establish healthy relationships. It is important to create spaces, such as school communities, where the behavioral norms are not tolerant of abuse in dating relationships.”[10]

There are a number of things that teens can do to avoid dating violence in their relationships, such as:

  • • Know the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors while dating.
  • • “Do not ignore the warning signs. Research has found that those who have a tendency to engage in relationship violence escalate their abuse over time. In other words, it gets worse over time, not better.”[11]
  • • Spend time with friends and family outside of dating relationships.
  • • Stay involved in activities and extracurriculars that you enjoy and that are good for you.[12]
  • • If you notice warning signs of abuse or feel trapped or threatened in a relationship, seek help.


But preventing and addressing dating violence shouldn’t be limited to just those in the relationships. Parents, educators, community advocates, and other teens can take steps to prevent and intervene in situations of dating violence as well.

  • • Educators: “Establish solid prevention programs and intervention policy, ensure all staff are well trained to respond effectively to dating violence issues in the classroom and on campus.”[13]
  • • Parents: If you suspect your teen may be in an abusive relationship, tell them that you are concerned for his or her safety. Be supportive and understanding in listening to them and getting them help.[14]
  • • Teens: You can support your friends or classmates who you are concerned about by having a conversation with them, being supportive, keeping the doors of communication open, and, when in need, getting support from a trusted adult.[15]
  • • Community members: Educate yourself on the issue of teen dating violence and learn about resources available. Advocate for prevention education and comprehensive school policies in your community and work to build partnerships with your local schools. Engage teens in the movement, explore opportunities for youth activism in your community, and learn about the variety of training opportunities, and educational materials available on the subject.[16]


Identifying the Teen Dating Violence Problem in Your Community

Clearly, teen dating violence is a significant problem affecting adolescents nationwide, but it is also one that is often overlooked or not recognized. That’s why it’s so important for communities to band together at all levels—from teens to parents to educators to community advocates—to raise awareness, support one another, and actively work towards preventing relationship abuse among teenagers. For more info on this important subject, check out these additional resources:


[1]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Physical Dating Violence Among High School Students—United States, 2003,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 19, 2006, Vol. 55, No. 19

[2]Grunbaum JA, Kann L, Kinchen S, et al. 2004. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2003. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 53(SS02); 1-96. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5302a1.htm.

[3]“Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.” Domestic Violence Awareness Project. National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. Retrieved from http://www.nrcdv.org/dvam/tdvam on February 10, 2017.

[4]Kann, L., Kinchen, S., Shanklin, S.L., Flint, K.H., Hawkins, J., Harris, W.A., Lowry, R., O’Malley, E., McManus, T., Chyen, D., Whittle, L., Taylor, E., Demissie, Z., Brener, N., Thornton, J., Moore, J., & Zaza, S. (2014). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Report – United States, 2013. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[5]Breiding, M.J., Chen J., & Black, M.C. (2014). Intimate Partner Violence in the United States — 2010. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[6]“Dating Violence Prevention.” Youth Topics. Youth.gov. Retrieved from http://youth.gov/youth-topics/teen-dating-violence on February 13, 2017.

[7]Women’s Health. (June/July 2004). Family Violence Prevention Fund and Advocates for Youth. Retrieved from

[8]“How Common is Dating Abuse?” Learn About Dating Abuse. Break the Cycle. Retrieved from https://www.breakthecycle.org/how-common-dating-abuse on February 13, 2017.

[9]“Warning Signs.” Learn About Dating Abuse. Break the Cycle. Retrieved from https://www.breakthecycle.org/warning-signs on February 13, 2017.

[10]“Dating Violence Prevention.” Youth Topics. Youth.gov. Retrieved from http://youth.gov/youth-topics/teen-dating-violence on February 13, 2017.

[11]McGhee, Stephanie. “What Are the Early Warning Signs of Teen Dating Violence?” National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence. Retrieved from http://www.ncdsv.org/images/WarningSignsofTeenDatingViolence.pdf on February 14, 2017.


[13]“Dating Violence Information for Educators.” Dating Violence: Violence Prevention Works. Retrieved from http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/dating_violence_info_for_educators.page on February 14, 2017.

[14] “Dating Violence Information for Parents.” Dating Violence: Violence Prevention Works. Retrieved from http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/dating_violence_info_for_parents.page on February 14, 2017.

[15] “Help A Friend.” Learn About Dating Abuse: Break the Cycle. Retrieved from https://www.breakthecycle.org/help-friend on February 14, 2017.

[16] “Dating Violence Information for Advocates & Service Providers.” Dating Violence: Violence Prevention Works. Retrieved from http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/dating_violence_info_for_advocates.page on February 14, 2017.

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