Facts About Teen Dating Violence and How You Can Help Prevent It

Published on in Health Tip of the Week

teens holding hands Teen dating violence, a form of intimate partner violence (IPV), is a serious public health problem. It is by far the most prevalent type of youth violence, affecting youth regardless of age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation.

The Violence Prevention Initiative (VPI) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has studied teen dating violence and implemented research-based screening and support initiatives for victims. Through the STOP IPV program, VPI supports screening by pediatric healthcare providers in order to identify families experiencing intimate partner violence and minimize the adverse effects of childhood intimate partner violence exposure. VPI experts share key findings and suggestions here for parents and teens to promote safe and healthy relationships.

What is dating violence?

Dating violence can take several forms, including:

  • Physical: pinching, hitting, kicking
  • Sexual: forcing sex without consent
  • Emotional: threatening, bullying, shaming, isolating, and/or manipulating
  • Stalking: receiving unwanted letters, phone calls, emails, or text messages, being followed or watched, and/or being physically approached unwantedly
  • Financial: taking or hiding money, preventing a partner from earning money

Some dating violence behaviors, such as emotional violence and stalking, can occur in person or digitally through email, text message, or other social media.

How big a problem is teen dating violence?

Intimate partner violence starts early:

  • Approximately 1 in 3 teens in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.
  • Every year, nearly 1.5 million high school students are physically abused by their partner.
  • Approximately 8.5 million women first experienced rape before the age of 18.
  • Before the age of 18, approximately 3.5 million women and nearly 1 million men first experienced being stalked.
  • Approximately 13 percent of 6th to 9th graders in 13 Midwest schools reported being stalked, with equal proportions of boys and girls affected.
  • Among college students who were sexually assaulted, many assaults occurred while on a date: 35 percent of attempted rapes, 22 percent of threatened rapes and 12 percent of completed rapes.
  • A CHOP-led study revealed that rates of dating violence victimization began to rise at age 13 years, rose sharply between ages 15 and 17 years (during high school), and continued to rise between ages 18 and 22 years (during college).

Intimate partner violence is much too common at all ages:

  • Nearly 1 in 4 women (22.3 percent) and 1 in 7 men (14 percent) have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • From 2005 to 2010, 34 percent of rapes and sexual assaults were committed by a former or current intimate partner.

Intimate partner violence has lasting negative effects:

  • Those who report experiencing intimate partner violence in high school are also likely to experience violence in their college relationships. 
  • Adolescent victims of violence are at higher risk for depression, substance abuse, suicide attempts, eating disorders, poor school performance, pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Victims in their teens also report higher rates of school absences, antisocial behavior and interpersonal conflict with peers.

How to prevent teen dating violence

Preventing teen dating violence will require a broad coalition of parents, schools and other community organizations, including education about healthy relationships starting at an early age. Here are some steps you can take with your child to reduce the risk.

  • Become a trusted source of information about relationships. Don’t assume your child will learn what they need to know about relationships on their own. Talk about relationships, including difficult topics like sex. Be sure your child understands the importance of respect in relationships: respecting others and expecting respect themselves. Listen to what your kids have to say. Answer questions openly and honestly.
  • Teach your child about healthy relationships — how to form them and how to recognize them. Healthy relationships are built on trust, honesty, respect, equality and compromise. Kids need to see what constitutes healthy relationship behaviors and how safe relationships are established between partners.  If you are experiencing IPV in your own relationship, seek help and support. If there is family violence in the home, a child can be an “indirect victim” of intimate partner violence as a witness and still face the serious consequences of the abuse.
  • Raise your child to be assertive — to speak up for herself and voice her opinions and needs. Teach and model ways to disagree in respectful and healthy ways. Also make sure your child understands what consent means — that both people in a relationship openly talk about and agree on what kind of activity they want to (or don’t want to) engage in.
  • Teach your child to recognize warning signs of an unhealthy relationship. These include jealousy and controlling behavior, including excessive communication or monitoring, or asking to keep aspects of the relationship secret.
  • Encourage your child to be a good friend — to take action when a friend is in an unhealthy relationship, first by talking with the friend and offering support, then by seeking help if the behavior continues.
  • Know when to get involved. Recognize the warning signs that your child is in an unhealthy relationship. These may include:
    • changes in mood
    • changes in sleep and eating patterns
    • withdrawal from former friends
    • declining school performance
    • loss of interest in a favorite sport or activity

When you see these kinds of changes, talk with your child. Ask how things are going and explain that you notice the changes. Your child may or may not open up to you at first, but if you continue to show your interest in a caring way, he or she may tell you in time. If you find out that your child is being abused, don’t try to handle the situation on your own. Effective action will likely require the help of someone at the school, a professional counselor, and possibly even the police. You might encourage your child to contact a service such as the National Dating Abuse Helpline (at www.loveisrespect.org or 1-866-331-9474).

 

For more information

Break the Cycle: Learn About Dating Abuse

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: loveisrespect.org

Youth.gov: Teen Dating Violence

Dating Matters: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships, Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In development, for launch in 2019.

 

Contributed by: Rachel Myers, PhD

 

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