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Dating Violence: Know the Signs

50% of females and 35% of males reported that they had abused or been violent toward their partner.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Sasha sat around the high school lunch table with her teenage friends, listening as they chattered about last Saturday’s homecoming dance. Sasha pulled her sweater sleeves down, even though it was eighty degrees out, hoping she could hide the bruises. She’d bet a plate of nacho fries that no one else at the table had experienced teen dating violence on Saturday night.

“What happened to your face?” Brittney asked her. 

“Oh, nothing,” Sasha lied, touching the bruise on her cheek. “I was walking the dog, and it decided to chase a rabbit. He dragged me right into a fence.” The lie seemed accepted, and the group moved on to the next subject. 

After lunch, when Sasha and her best friend Amber were in the bathroom reapplying their makeup before chemistry, Amber asked, “Okay, what really happened to your face?”

Sasha glanced around at the empty stalls. “Brandon slapped me because I danced with Joey.”

“Are you serious? Joey has been your best friend since you were, like, five.”

“I know. Brandon said I embarrassed him and that if I ever danced with anyone else ever again, or talked to any of the guys at all, he’d do worse next time.” Sasha rolled her sleeves up to wash her hands, and Amber gasped at the bruises on her friend’s arms. 

“You’ve got to leave that jerk. He doesn’t get to control you or who you hang out with.” 

“But he loves me and is so good to me. Besides, he brought me roses yesterday to apologize for overreacting. He’s a really good guy, he just gets jealous sometimes.”

Amber gave her the side eye. “If he ever touches you again, you need to tell someone, like your parents or the school counselor. They can help.”

“No, I can’t tell them. No one can know! I’d be so embarrassed and Brandon would really act out then. And what would my parents think of me? They’d be so disappointed.” 

What is Teen Dating Violence?

When our teenagers start dating, it is the beginning of a new and often confusing time in their lives. It can be challenging for parents to know how to relate to their teens and guide them through the new landscape of relationships. However, one area that is often overlooked during this stage is teen dating violence.

Teen and young adult relationships are often complex. However, it is critical to point out that there is a major difference between teenagers who don’t get along and abuse. Abuse is the intentional harm to another person. Dating violence can involve stalking or any physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse that happens within a teenager’s dating relationships.

Dating violence can happen to anyone regardless of their grades, what extracurricular activities they’re involved in, or social status among peers. Even if your teenager seems happy in their relationship, that doesn’t mean they are safe. Teens in abusive dating relationships may not understand what’s happening or know what to do about it, so taking an active role in your teenager’s relationships is critical for their safety. It is important for us as parents to begin a dialogue with our kids when they are still at home, because when they leave home after high school and are living independently, their risk for dating violence increases. 

Surprising Statistics About Teen Dating Violence

If you’re one of the 81% of parents who are not familiar with teen dating violence or don’t think that it’s an issue, think again. Some surprising statistics show how prevalent it is in our teenagers’ relationships.

Warning Signs of Teen Dating Violence

Now that you know how common teen dating violence is among teenagers, you may be wondering if your teenager is in a relationship where abuse is occurring. If it is happening, you will want to help your teenager find a safe way to exit the relationship. 

Dating violence can impact a person for their entire life and be harmful to them both physically and emotionally. Teen dating violence can cause your teenager to become withdrawn, exhibit signs of depression and anxiety, and begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol. The relationships that your teenager has now can set the stage for their future relationships. 

Brian Pinero, the Vice President of Victim Services at RAINN, says, “Dating Violence doesn’t have an age restriction. It isn’t defined by gender identity. And it doesn’t look the same for every relationship. To answer the question, ‘What does dating violence look like?’ isn’t so straightforward—and that’s what makes it difficult to spot.”

Warning Signs in Our Teenagers

If your teen is experiencing teen dating violence, they will often exhibit warning signs. Some of these may be subtle but can point to a larger relationship problem. Some of these signs include: 

  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Loss of enjoyment in activities they used to like.
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns.
  • Unexplained bruises, scratches, or other injuries.
  • Changes in mood, unusual moodiness, outbursts of anger, or signs of depression or anxiety.
  • The relationship becomes serious very quickly. For instance, your teenager may say “I love you” within the first few days or weeks of a relationship. 
  • Changes in the clothes and accessories that they are wearing.
  • Increased insecurity.
  • New drug or alcohol use.  
  • Making excuses for their dating partner’s behavior.
  • Changes in their friendships and peer groups.
  • A drop in grades or decreased performance during extracurricular activities and sports.
  • A sudden change in church or youth group attendance or their spiritual beliefs. 
Close up of a young, pensive Asian woman listening to someone talking to her on her phone

Talk to a Counselor

If you need further guidance and encouragement, we have a staff of licensed, professional counselors who offer a one-time complimentary consultation from a Christian perspective. They can also refer you to counselors in your area for ongoing assistance.
Reach a counselor toll-free at 1-855-771-HELP (4357).

Discussion Questions for Parents and Their Teens

As our teenagers are out of the house more often, spending time at school, extracurricular activities, and engaging with friends and dating partners, it can be challenging for parents to know what is happening in their lives. It is critical that we create safe spaces for conversations with our teenagers and connect with them. Here are some discussion questions that you can ask of your teenager’s dating relationship.

Signs of Teen Dating Violence

Emotional and Psychological Abuse:

  • Do you ever fear that your partner might hurt you in any way?
  • Does your boyfriend/girlfriend pressure you into doing things you aren’t comfortable with? Do they pressure you to have sexual contact?
  • Is your partner controlling? Does it seem like they have all the power and control in the relationship? Does your relationship feel unbalanced?
  • Is your boyfriend/girlfriend extremely moody or have an explosive temper? Do you often feel like you’re walking on eggshells around them?

Control and Isolation

  • Does your partner determine who you can be friends with? Can you go out or talk with other people? Do you feel isolated from your friends and family?
  • Do they ever cross the line and invade your privacy or show up when you’re not expecting them?
  • Does your boyfriend/girlfriend check in on you constantly, wanting to know where you are, what you are doing, and who you are with? Are they overly jealous and possessive? Do they act insecure about your relationship?
  • Does your partner damage or ruin your belongings?

Damage to Personal Property and Reputation:

  • Has your boyfriend/girlfriend ever tracked or stalked you using GPS or other technology? Do they constantly monitor where you are, what you’re doing, and what you post on social media? Have they ever shared with others in person or on social media, information that you consider to be private between the two of you (including pictures or sexually explicit information)?
  • Does your partner falsely accuse you of things or say that you didn’t do something when you did? (Or vice versa). Do they blame you for problems in the relationship?
  • Do they bully, intimidate, humiliate, insult, or call you names? Does your partner insult you or criticize you in front of other people?
  • Do they threaten or cause physical violence (such as hitting or grabbing you, hitting walls, slamming doors, blocking your movements, and physical altercations outside of the relationship)?
  • Is your partner constantly communicating with you via text, phone, or social media?
  • Does your boyfriend/girlfriend mock you for your relationship with Jesus? Do they insist you give up church or youth group, or change your beliefs?

Effects of Teen Dating Violence

  • Harmful and abusive behaviors usually increase over time.
  • As an abusive relationship progresses, the likelihood of your teenager being injured or harmed will also increase.

How Parents Can Help

  • If your teenager has told you that they are in an abusive dating relationship, or you suspect that they are experiencing teen dating violence, there are several ways that you can help.
  • If you see warning signs in their relationship, tell your teenager what you see and why you think there may be a problem.
  • Talk openly and honestly with your teenager about what a healthy relationship does and doesn’t look like. Discuss the warning signs of different types of abuse, and let them know that abuse and violence have no place in a relationship.
  • Make conversations about relationships and sex normal, open, honest, and nonjudgmental.
  • Discuss God’s heart for a relationship, how He created man and woman to interact, and how He despises abuse and violence. Look up Bible verses, such as Galatians 5:19-21 and Psalm 11:5, that describe God’s stance on violence and abuse.
  • Encourage your teenager to reach out to a trusted friend, teacher, counselor, parent, or mentor if they are in an unhealthy dating relationship or are experiencing teen dating violence. Let them know that if, for any reason, they do not want to talk to you, they should talk to someone they trust to provide wise counsel.
  • Seek the guidance of a licensed counselor or therapist.
  • Remind your teenager that they are a precious child of God and that they are worthy of a relationship that is loving and free of violence. Let them know that abuse is never acceptable in a relationship and is not their fault.
  • Decide on an action plan together, and create a safety plan so that they can leave the relationship.
  • Whether they want to discuss their relationship with you or not, give them resources on teen dating violence that they can look at on their own.

Teen Dating Violence Resources

Here are some helpful resources for you and your teenager if they are experiencing teen dating violence.  

Know that if your teenager is experiencing teen dating violence, you are not alone. Many other parents are in your shoes. Be encouraged that there are resources out there to help you help your teenager. You have the beautiful opportunity to teach them what a healthy relationship looks like and to help them learn how to navigate the landscape of relationships. The support you give and the discussions you have now can have a lasting impact on them for years to come. 

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