Just like any relationship, teen relationships require trust, respect and honest communication to thrive. Unfortunately, nearly one in three teenage relationships are characterized as either unhealthy or violent. One reason for this is because teens are still developing critical emotional and mental maturities that put them at a disadvantage in dealing with the stresses of a romantic relationship. Some teens may have never been in a relationship before or may not have examples of healthy relationships to look up to.
Along with the newness and excitement of teenage relationships, healthy aspects of relationships such as boundary setting, compromise and open communication, are often not prioritized or valued. This places teens in a vulnerable position and more likely to experience violence within a relationship. Being able to understand the facts about teen dating violence is the first step in prevention for teens and for parents and advocates to best be able to support them.
What is teen dating violence?
According to teendvmonth.org, teen dating violence is “physical, psychological or sexual abuse; harassment; or stalking of any person ages 13 to 19 in the context of a past or present romantic or consensual relationship.”
Youth.gov states teen dating violence can include (but are not limited to) the following:
Physical Abuse: hitting, kicking, biting, shoving, hair pulling, scratching;
Emotional or Psychological Abuse: name calling, bullying, shaming, intentionally embarrassing, controlling/jealous behaviors, keeping away from friends and family, constant monitoring;
Sexual Abuse: forcing a teen partner to engage in sexual acts against or without their consent;
Stalking: Repeatedly following or harassing a teen partner in a way that causes them reasonable fear for their safety or well-being.
Teen dating violence isn’t just limited to in-person events of violence. Teens in an unhealthy or abusive relationship are likely to experience various forms of abuse due to easily accessible technologies. Teen violence can also occur via texting, phone calls, video chat and social media.
COVID-19 and its impact on teen dating violence
An increase in isolation and decrease in social support has been the reality for many teens during the COVID-19 pandemic. School campuses have been closed, teens are attending classes online, socialization through social media, chat rooms and video games have increased, and many teens have been isolated from friends and family. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has put teens at a higher risk for digital abuse due to the increase in stressors, decrease in social support and increase in isolation. Teens may send threats by text; post private pictures, videos or texts without consent; or secretly look through a partner’s device to monitor him or her.
What are consequences of teen dating violence?
Teens involved in unhealthy or abusive relationships are more likely to suffer from debilitating or long-term consequences. Some of these may include:
- Risk of physical injury
- Low self-esteem
- Poor academic performance
- Depressive symptoms
- Anxiety symptoms
- Thoughts of suicide/suicide attempts
- Unhealthy sexual behaviors
- Substance abuse
- Negative body image and low self esteem
- Violence in future relationships
Teen Dating Violence Prevention
Learning the warning signs of abuse and promoting healthy relationships are two of the best ways to prevent abuse. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell when a relationship turns from healthy to unhealthy to even abusive. Relationships do not always start out unhealthy, they may become unhealthy or abusive as time goes on and unhealthy patterns begin to develop. Again, these warning signs help increase one’s ability to determine whether a relationship is healthy, unhealthy or abusive.
Typical warning signs include:
- Checking your phone, email or social media accounts without your permission
- Putting you down frequently, especially in front of others
- Isolating you from friends or family (physically, financially, or emotionally)
- Extreme jealous or insecurity
- Gaslighting tactics (manipulating you to question your sanity and own perspectives)
- Explosive outbursts, temper, or mood swings
- Any form of physical harm
- Possessiveness or controlling behavior
- Pressuring you or forcing you to have sex
Tips for Promoting Healthy Relationships:
If you or someone you know is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship there are many ways to find support. Reaching out to trusted adults, friends and therapists is a great first step in feeling empowered and developing the skills and courage needed to address an unhealthy relationship or even leave the relationship. Some additional tips for promoting healthy relationships include:
- Empowerment through family, friends, social groups, counselors and mentors
- Building self-esteem
- Learning safe and healthy relationship skills including; assertive communication skills and boundary setting
- Understanding and practicing consent
Resources for Teens, Parents and Advocates
- National Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474
- The Hotline Postcard Digital PDF
- A Deeper Look into Gaslighting
- Healthy Relationships/How to Set Boundaries
- Healthy Relationships / Understanding Consent
- Teen Safety Plan PDF
- Parent Toolkit PDF
- TDVAM Action Guide 2020 for Helpers PDF
Doris Pakozdi, AMFT, a clinical therapist in The Guidance Center’s San Pedro Clinic, where she helps guide children and families struggling with mental health conditions or abuse toward positive and productive futures. She is especially passionate about helping youth build healthy relationships through empowerment and effective communication skills . Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2019, Ms. Pakozdi worked with survivors of domestic violence facilitating the Domestic Violence Women’s Empowerment Group at 1736 Family Crisis Center. Ms. Pakozdi earned a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy in 2019 at California State University, Dominguez Hills