Teens and Domestic Violence

Dating violence in teenage romantic relationships includes physical, sexual and psychological aggression. It is strikingly common in these relationships. As many as 50 percent of teens, both male and female, have been involved in physical dating violence. Emotional abuse in relationships is even more common, affecting up to 90 percent of teenage relationships. 

Many parents are surprised to learn that there are few differences between boys and girls in risk for dating violence. Both males and females are equally likely to be victims or perpetrators of dating violence. In fact, most dating violence is mutual, where teens are both perpetrators and victims in their relationships. Teens are particularly vulnerable to dating violence, with frequency of abuse increasing during adolescence and young adulthood before eventually declining in adulthood. This makes adolescence a unique and important time for healthy relationship development.

A group of teens, wearing backpacks, walk away

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Talking to Kids About Teen Dating Violence

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Effects of Teen Dating Violence

Consequences of teen dating violence span both emotional and physical health.

Teens involved in violent romantic relationships can experience:
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use
  • Poorer educational outcomes 
  • Disruptive behaviors 
  • Suicidality

Dating violence has also been linked to poorer physical health, including chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, increased blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, and chronic pain.

Teens who are involved in dating violence in high school are also more likely to be involved in violent relationships into college and adulthood. Stopping patterns of dating violence behaviors and promoting the development of healthy relationships early is critical to preventing further violence.

Who Is at Risk for Teen Dating Violence?

There is no single cause of dating violence in relationships and no two teens experiencing dating violence will look exactly the same. 

However, some factors that may put a teen at greater risk for dating violence include:

  • A history of exposure to domestic violence
  • A history of other types of aggressive behavior, such as being the victim or perpetrator of bullying
  • Mental health symptoms, such as depression or anxiety
  • Alcohol or drug use 
  • Rule-breaking, such as truancy or gang involvement

It’s important to remember that although risk factors exist for involvement in dating violence, teens should not be blamed for being victims of violent relationships. 

What Parents Can Do about Teen Dating Violence

Parents should pay attention to potential changes in their teen’s moods or behaviors in romantic relationships.

Signs that your teen may be struggling with their romantic relationship health include:
  • Isolating themselves
  • Spending less time with friends 
  • Disengaging from the family or enjoyable activities 
  • Expressing stress or anxiety about the relationship 
  • Experiencing fluctuating moods

Often teens won’t realize that they’re experiencing unhealthy relationship behaviors or abuse. They may normalize extreme jealousy or frequent and volatile conflict as evidence of intensity and love. 

What’s the best way to promote healthy relationships? Dr. Charlene Collibee, clinical psychologist and postdoctoral fellow at Rhode Island Hospital, says that prevention is key. 

“Healthy relationship development starts at home,” said Dr. Collibee. “Adolescents learn how to develop healthy relationship behaviors through good communication, support, and problem solving with their parents. These skills then help teens maintain healthy relationships with friends and romantic partners into adulthood.”

It’s also important to notice patterns or changes in your teens behavior, especially when they begin a new relationship. Dr. Collibee emphasized, “If you’ve noticed a change in your teen or identified warning signs of abuse, then now is the time to get additional help.” 

Therapists can work with teens and their families together to help the teen identify potential unhealthy relationship behaviors, establish safety plans, or exit the relationship as safely, as appropriate.