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Understanding Teenage Dating Violence


For teenagers, dating relationships can be both exciting and confusing. They may have difficulty recognizing when a relationship turns abusive. Many times, dating abuse starts out as teasing or harassing behaviors and excessive jealousy and possessiveness might initially be interpreted as signs of love. Teenagers may think these behaviors are a normal part of a relationship, but this type of emotional abuse can set the stage for more serious physical violence.

Dating abuse can be defined as behavior resulting in physical, sexual or emotional/psychological abuse within a dating relationship or with a former dating partner. Dating abuse can happen in person or electronically. It may begin as emotional abuse, but it can quickly escalate to physical violence. For teenagers, abusive relationships can be especially complicated because they may be ill-equipped to handle the emotions involved with ending the relationship.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse includes punching, scratching, hitting, slapping, grabbing or any form or unwanted physical contact. The abusive behavior doesn't necessarily have to lead to a physical mark, such as a bruise or abrasion, to be considered physical abuse. Abuse also includes forcing someone to perform sexual acts when they do not or cannot consent.

Abusive relationships usually get worse over time, but teenagers may not know what to do if they experience physical abuse. They may turn to a trusted friend, teacher, school counselor or family member to help them make a safety plan. More information on creating a safety plan is available on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse may be more subtle, but it is often a warning sign of an unhealthy relationship. Emotional abuse may include yelling, name-calling, threatening, humiliation and stalking. Abusers may try to control their dating partners by preventing them from seeing friends and family, or telling them what to do or what to wear.

Emotional abuse may not leave physical scars, but it can cause emotional damage. It can lead to lower self-esteem and destructive behavior, such as alcohol or drug abuse. If the relationship continues in the same pattern, emotional abuse may lead to physical violence.

Digital abuse

As useful as new technologies are, they also open avenues for abusive behavior. Digital abuse can include harassment or threats through email, texts or on social media sites. Social media sites may also be used for stalking or keeping tabs on a dating partner. Constant text messaging or sending explicit photos by phone or online can be considered abuse.

Teenagers in abusive relationships may be confused about what to do. It's important for them to understand that abuse is never their fault. They may believe abuse is a normal part of a relationship, or they may fear what will happen if they leave. If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, let them know you are concerned for their safety.

Teenagers may seek help from friends, parents, teachers, school counselors or other trusted adults. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE) has trained advocates available by phone anytime you need or want to talk. You may also want to contact Military OneSource (800-342-9647) and talk to a consultant who can refer you to someone who can help in your local community.


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