Teen Dating Violence: Do You Know the Signs?

Author: Jenna English

An unhealthy relationship can be seen as the norm for teens who are unaccustomed to the precedents of dating, simply because being in a relationship is something new and exciting for them. All the same, an unhealthy relationship at a young age makes way for the acceptance of abusive behavior. As adults, it is very common to belittle the emotions of young teens, especially in regards to a relationship that we think is not going to last and/or doesn’t have as strong a foundation and purpose as an adult relationship. But many of these teenage woes are valid and expose problems within the relationship that are unique to teens and young adults.

Because of this uniqueness, there is a special term for teens that experience abuse. “Teen Dating Violence (TDV)” refers to a pattern of harmful behavior with the intentions of establishing control and power over their teenager partner. This can affect anyone in their teens regardless of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, faith, etc.  In fact, rates of teen dating violence among the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community are twice as high as those in the heterosexual community. In transgender youths, the rates are even higher. As many as nearly 1.5 million high school students have experienced physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. This includes things such as being hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a dating partner. Teen dating violence is an issue that often goes overlooked or unrecognized.

This past month, Ashleigh Diserio and I were fortunate enough to attend a Teen Dating Violence training program presented by the Office for Women & Domestic Violence Services and the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA). At the training, we were given a hypothetical situation that involved a teenager that was in an abusive relationship. Within those scenarios, it was up to us to choose the teen’s reaction to each abusive situation. I enjoyed this activity because it showed me that no teen dating violence case is the same as another. It also reaffirmed to me how everyone reacts to things differently and without the proper tools to escape and acknowledge the abuse, it becomes an unending cycle. The proper tools to combat abuse are not always accessible to teens. Barriers such as parents and age can sometimes obstruct the level of care that is needed for victims of abuse.

One of the most significant ways to help a teen in a potentially abusive relationship is to be aware of the warning signs. In reality, it is hard to notice the warning signs because it is somewhat acceptable and a common belief that teens are moody and distant. The most obvious signs fall under the category of technological abuse. Technological abuse can include:

  1. Frequently looking at a partner's text messages, photos, search history;

  2. Constantly texting them at all hours of the day and night;

  3. Blocking people on social media without their partner's permission; and

  4. Telling their partner who they can be friends with on social media.

Warning signs that are not technologically related are such things as:

  1. Extreme changes in weight or appearance;

  2. Getting too serious about the relationship too quickly;

  3. Worried about how their partner will react to things they say or do;

  4. Having to constantly check in with their partner;

  5. Withdrawing from friends and family;

  6. Constantly apologizing for their partner's behavior or making excuses for them;

  7. Decreased interest in activities that they used to enjoy;

  8. Casually mentioning their partner's violent behavior but laughing it off as a joke;

  9. Unexplained injuries;

  10. Defaulting all decisions to their partner; and

  11. A change in grades or school involvement.

If you see any of these warning signs DO NOT ignore them. Research has found that those who engage in teen dating violence escalate their abuse over time. It will get worse, not better.

In addition to noticing these behaviors, it is important to be available and accepting if a teen approaches you and voices that they have been experiencing abuse by their partner. In many cases, teen dating violence leads to domestic violence and the acceptance of that violence. It is best to offer help to a teen experiencing dating violence and assure the validity of their predicament.

Lastly, before your child even starts dating, it is important to have a conversation with them about the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors while dating.


Ashleigh Diserio Consulting works with individuals and organizations, assisting them in gleaning insight into a person’s life, motivation, and past and future behavior, so certain areas of behavior can be understood with a high degree of accuracy. We provide services in the areas of criminal and intelligence investigations, management support, threat assessment, insider threat support, and education and training.