Four in 10 Teens Have Experienced Dating Violence: What Parents and Providers Can Do

BlogTrauma & ResilienceAug 2 2013

The American Psychological Association issued a press release this week, summarizing some new and alarming statistics on teen dating violence in the United States. Their report focused on findings from a recent study, which found that more than one in three teens has experienced dating violence. This study, which drew from data collected in 2011 and 2012 from a national, online survey funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), examined both victimization and perpetration of dating violence, defined as physical, sexual or psychological/emotional violence within a dating relationship.

This study revealed that roughly 40 percent of teens report experiencing some form of violence at the hand of their partners, and that more than 30 percent report perpetrating dating violence. Many teens (about one-quarter) say that they have been on both the receiving end and the perpetration end. And this study, like many before it, showed that both females and males experience dating violence (although females are more likely than males to report being sexually victimized by their partners and, correspondingly, males are more likely to report perpetrating sexual violence).

Romantic relationships are an important part of adolescence. Unhealthy sexual and romantic relationships, particularly those characterized by physical, sexual, and psychological violence, are detrimental to the health and wellbeing of teens and can set the stage for intimate partner violence into adulthood.1,2  But signs of an unhealthy adolescent relationship may be difficult to detect – and they may be different than those in unhealthy adult relationships. Many teens, for example, report dating abuse through the use of technology such as text messaging and social media. Some signs that a teen may be experiencing dating violence include: suspicious bruises; a drop in grades; loss of interest in hobbies; needing to respond immediately to calls or texts. Having a partner three or more years older is also a risk factor for experiencing forced sex.

Parents and other caring adults can play an important role in preventing teen dating violence by looking out for some of the signs above, by monitoring teens’ behaviors, and by talking with teens about healthy relationships.  In adolescence, teens spend a large proportion of their time in school, though, so to maximize the opportunities to detect and (hopefully) prevent teen dating violence from occurring, The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE) developed the Get Smart, Get Help, Be Safe toolkit, which leverages the strengths of school support staff in the effort to prevent teen dating violence.  School support staff are in a unique position to help teens, because they are already trained to recognize when students are in trouble and they can work with entire school communities (including teachers, administrators, students, and their families) to raise awareness about dating violence and to cultivate a culture of respect.

Protecting our teens from dating violence requires a thorough understanding of the warning signs of abusive relationships, and it requires promotion of positive and healthy relationship norms. More on these topics can be found on The Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Adolescent Health website, which houses information and resources related to teen dating violence and healthy relationships.

1 Banyard, V. L., & Cross, C. (2008). Consequences of teen dating violence: understanding intervening variables in ecological context. Violence Against Women, 14(9), 998-1013.

2 Silverman, J. G., Raj, A., Mucci, L. A., & Hathaway, J. E. (2001). Dating violence against adolescent girls and associated substance use, unhealthy weight control, sexual risk behavior, pregnancy, and suicidality. JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, 286(5), 572-579.