Dating among teens is common and can even be healthy for emotional and social development. But it’s critical that teens learn the signs and risks of an unhealthy relationship early.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that, among U.S. high school students:
About 1 in 12 experienced physical dating violence
About 1 in 12 experienced sexual dating violence
Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, which occurs every February, is a great time to talk to your teen about dangers and signs of an unhealthy relationship.
Dangers of Teen Dating Violence
“Teens are in their formative years,” says Kristin Francis, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Huntsman Mental Health Institute. “Being exposed to dating violence this early in their lives can have harmful consequences, both physically and psychologically.”
One recent study found that the most common consequences of teen dating violence are “low self-esteem, depressive symptoms, psychiatric disorders, drug abuse, risky sexual behavior, and low academic performance.”
Beyond those risks, data show that dating violence can also perpetuate the cycle of abuse.
Signs of Teen Dating Violence
Teen dating violence isn’t always obvious—and victims who feel ashamed will sometimes attempt to hide signs of abuse. Recognizing both the obvious and more hidden signs of abuse can save lives. Look out for those who:
Are isolated from friends and family
Are put down or humiliated frequently by their partner
Show signs of injuries, including bruises, scratches, and broken bones
Have an extremely jealous partner
Have a partner with intense mood swings and explosive outbursts
It’s also important to keep an eye on other forms of abuse in relationships, which can include emotional and verbal abuse, financial abuse, digital abuse, and stalking.
“Abuse can take on a lot of different forms, and it’s not always obvious,” Francis says. “Be aware of any changes in behavior and create space for nonjudgmental conversations. Let teens know that they don’t need to feel ashamed or alone—help is available.”
How to Help
We can all help prevent teen dating violence by setting a good example of what healthy, communicative, and respectful relationships look like. We can call out abuse when we see it on television, in music, or on the big screen.
“Reducing stigma around abuse is so important to preventing it and helping someone escape it,” Francis says. “Asking tough questions like, ‘Do you feel safe with your partner?’ or ‘Are you being hurt?’ really can save lives and set our young adults on the right path for healthy relationships.”
If you believe someone you know is experiencing dating violence, reach out and ask if you can help them find the support they need. Ask them if they feel safe and, if they don’t, help them create a safety plan.
If you are experiencing dating violence, reach out for help. Speak to a trusted friend, family member, co-worker, or therapist.
People in immediate danger should call 911. Otherwise, a number of resources are available to help people recognize and escape abusive relationships, including the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the National Sexual Assault Hotline, and LoveIsRespect.org.
If you need someone to speak to, 988 is a confidential, no-cost line that directs callers in need to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network and integrated crisis response systems. There are also crisis intervention apps like SafeUT, which connects users to licensed counselors that are ready to listen to any sized crisis or concern.