Understanding Teen Dating Violence
Adolescence is a pivotal time in a child’s development. They begin to make decisions, develop relationships, and take on more responsibility in their lives. The lessons and habits they learn will stick with them throughout adulthood. Teens are impressionable.
The relationships they have when they’re young, both personal and romantic, can have lasting effects. Teen dating violence is a serious issue. Not only does it harm the teen, but it also has lasting consequences that can follow them throughout adulthood.
Teen dating violence (TVD) is the physical, sexual, and psychological abuse experienced as a teen in a dating relationship. Although abuse is more common in middle-aged women, millions of teens every year experience some form of teen dating violence. TVD can take many forms and can happen both in-person and digitally. Teens who experience dating violence are more likely to be victims of domestic violence in adulthood. Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it’s important to share information on these topics to help those that are victims and prevent any further abuse.
Red Flags & Warning Signs
Emotional abuse is when an abuser will bully, falsely accuse, isolate, or gaslight a victim to assert dominance and psychologically control their victim. Emotional abuse is one of the most common tactics used by abusers, and one of the first signs of teen dating violence in a relationship. Some warning signs of emotional abuse include:
- False accusations of cheating
- Isolation from friends and family
- Belittlement, mockery, or consistent criticism
- Undermined emotions, opinions, and feelings
- Public humiliation or intentional embarrassment
- Held responsible for all the partner’s mistakes
- Manipulation through threat or blackmail
- Sporadic or unnecessary arguments
- Personal attacks and swearing towards partner
Although emotional abuse is the most common form of teen dating violence, it can be the hardest to detect. Abusers will act friendly around friends and family, then flip a switch when they’re alone with the victim. Many victims don’t notice the signs of emotional abuse. They tell themselves that it isn’t that bad or blame themselves for the abuser’s actions. Emotional abuse can cause a victim to have low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and increased levels of guilt and shame.
Financial abuse is when money is used as a weapon to control a victim. Stealing a partner’s money, controlling how a partner spends their own money, or preventing a partner from academic success or getting a job are just some forms of teen financial abuse. Some common red flags of financial abuse include:
- Having to ask partner for permission to use their own money
- Being forced to pay for all the dates
- Having to give the other partner access to their money and accounts
- Financially supporting a partner with nothing in return
- Being prevented from attending school
- Not being allowed to partake in higher education and employment opportunities
Financial abuse can have detrimental long-term consequences such as dropping out of school, giving up academic and job opportunities, being financially reliant on the partner, and having little to no money to their own name. The effects of financial abuse are amplified when a teen has a debit or credit card.
Abusers can gain access to their accounts and rack up debt in their name. This can cause teens to enter adulthood with severe debt and a low credit score. Although it may not seem important to a teen now, financial abuse can make reaching milestones like attending college or making big purchases much more challenging. Things like buying a home have certain credit score requirements, that financial abuse survivors may not be able to meet.
Physical violence is the intentional hurting of a partner’s physical body. Bitting, hitting, kicking, choking, throwing, and beating are common forms of physical abuse. Many abusers will create excuses for physical violence, blame the victim, or will make the abuse seem like an accident.
This form of abuse is the easiest to identify since it often leaves victims with bruises and scars. However, many victims will cover up any signs or markings by wearing long clothing or applying makeup to their wounds. If you notice your child wearing long sleeves and pants on a hot day, it can be an indicator of physical violence. Some other red flags for physical violence are:
- Bruises on the body
- Black eye or swelling around the eye and face
- Broken glasses or personal items
- Busted lips
- Sprained wrists
- Unexplained wounds or injuries
- Wearing scarves or sunglasses during unorthodox times
- Extra alertness or waiting for something bad to happen
- Flinching or putting hands up in defense at sudden movement or being touched
Physical violence is regarded as the most dangerous TVD. Victims of physical abuse often experience PTSD, increased anxiety, trust issues, and addiction. Abusers will start controlling their victims using psychological tactics and then move into physical violence. Identifying other forms of abuse in a relationship can help prevent your teen from experiencing physical violence. However, if you notice signs of physical abuse it’s imperative that you get them the help they need before the violence escalates.
Sexual violence, also known as sexual assault, is when a victim is pressured physically or emotionally to engage in sexual activity. Sexual assault is not limited to intercourse. It can be any unconsented sexual touching, sexting, or sending explicit pictures of a partner to others.
Sexual violence is another way abusers control and manipulate their victims for their gain. This form of abuse is the hardest for teens to talk about. However, some warning signs to look out for include:
- Signs of physical abuse (bruises, wounds, scars)
- Unusual weight gain or weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts
- Abnormal changes to self-care (clothing, hygiene, appearance)
- Self-harm or substance abuse
- Panic attacks
- STDs or sexually transmitted infection
- Pregnancy or pregnancy scare
If you notice these signs, have an open conversation with your teen. Create a safe space for them to speak their truth. Sexual violence can lead to unwanted pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection/disease that, if not treated early on, can end severe health risks. Sexual violence also has long-term effects on a victim’s mental health. It can cause a victim to develop an eating disorder to reclaim a sense of control, PTSD, numbness, and fear of sexual interaction or intimacy.
Stalking is the repeated unwanted contact and attention from a partner. Some forms of stalking include an abuser showing up at the victim’s house unexpectedly, physically following a victim, sending unwanted texts and phone calls to the victim, tracking the victim through social media, and hiring or making other people follow you. Stalking is a tactic used to make the victim fearful and is often used when the victim leaves the relationship. It may not seem as dangerous but if not addressed early, can continue long after teenage years.
Some red flags of stalking include:
- Rumors being spread about the victim
- Unwanted phone calls to anyone with a connection to the victim (friends, family, employers)
- Abuser showing up to victim’s place of employment
- Abuser waiting for the victim or following them
- Abuser monitoring or tracking victim’s location and internet use
- Threats to victim’s new partner
- Unexplainable damage is done to home, car, or personal belongings
If you suspect that your teen is being stalked it may be wise to take legal action against the abuser. Consider getting a restraining order to put a stop to this manipulation. Stalking may not seem like much, but it can implicate a child’s life, and if it persists, can lead to rather dangerous or life-threatening situations.
What Parents Can Do
Knowing the signs of teen dating violence and educating your teen on the signs can help prevent your child from becoming a victim. If you suspect your child is experiencing teen dating violence, initiate conversation. During the conversation listen to your teen, taking note of what they need most. Be a source of comfort and guidance, but most importantly, encourage and help your teen take action. Teen dating violence is a serious issue. By talking about these red flags and warning signs, and by taking the necessary actions against abusers, we can help put a stop to teen dating violence.