February is Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month

All relationships exist on a spectrum. What might work for one person, might not work for someone else. That is what makes relationships so unique and special. However, it is important to recognize that all healthy relationships have the same building blocks: communication, respect, trust, honesty, and equality. When these blocks are missing, it may lead to some disharmony and to more extreme cases of abuse.

Relationships can be difficult to navigate for many adults, but teens often are the most vulnerable to abuse due to a lack of understanding, experience, and resources. The CDC reports (2023) that experiencing dating violence in high school can put an individual at higher risk of being revictimized during college. Other consequences include depression and anxiety symptoms, developing unhealthy coping strategies like nicotine, vaping, and/or alcohol use, displaying antisocial behaviors like lying, theft, bullying, and physical intimidation or violence, and thoughts of suicide.

“I just feel so betrayed. He said he’d protect me, and now… I’m just scared of him all the time. I don’t know what he’s going to do next, or how he’ll react when I tell him. I’m going stay until he’s happier. Then I’ll break up with him.”

Teens often develop their ideas of dating at home first. They watch and observe the relationship models in their lives then go out to replicate them. The Office on Women’s Health states, “a boy who sees his mother being abused is ten times more likely to abuse his female partner as an adult. A girl who grows up in a home where her father abuses her mother is more than six times as likely to be sexually abused as a girl who grows up in a non-abusive home (2021).” Often violence and abusive behaviors are first learned at home and from other close, trusted authority figures. This can lead to a variety of maladaptive behaviors, but also lead to some individuals repeating these behaviors when exploring connections and relationships as a teenager and adult.

“She’s so controlling. Like, she’s constantly accusing me of cheating. I didn’t even do anything, but she always needs to know where I am and who I’m with. I’m so tired of it, but I love her so much.”

From the CDC (2020), 26% of women and 15% of men who experienced intimate partner violence as adults reported that their first experience was before the age of 18. While many teens often do not talk about it directly, from a caregiver and parent perspective there are some warning signs that can help you identify when a relationship is becoming unhealthy or abusive.

  • Using insults, intimidation, or humiliation
  • Extreme jealousy, insecurity, or controlling behavior
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Unwanted sexual contact
  • Explosive temper or unusual moodiness
  • Constantly monitoring social media and needs access to location at all times
  • Invasions of privacy and/or showing up unannounced
  • Unwanted gifts, items, or flowers
  • Misusing over the counter substances or illegal substances
  • Threating or causing physical violence
  • Thoughts of suicide

Any one of these warning signs is enough cause for concern. Caregivers and parents can help safeguard a teen and help protect them from dating violence. These conversations can be difficult to have due to stigma, emotional involvement, and general misinformation about what healthy relationships look like. Here are some tips on starting this conversation if you feel a teen in your life is experiencing dating violence:

  • Talk Honestly and Openly
    • Let them know what healthy relationships can look like while expressing violence is NEVER okay in any capacity.
  • Educate Yourself on Teen Dating Violence
    • Look for local support groups, or resources for help. Learn more about the warning signs of domestic violence and related statistics
  • Pay Attention
    • Whether or not your teen verbally tells you what is happening, they may be communicating with you in other ways. Watch for changes in their moods and behaviors, changes in their grades, loss of interest in activities, changes in friend groups, or feeling like they are being watched. Sometimes there can be physical changes like altering appearances, unexplained bruises, or changes to eating habits as well.

Establishing healthy relationships from an early age is important to help teens identify when things are okay. Some additional resources to learn more about dating violence are:

If you or a loved one needs additional support with mental health or substance use due to intimate partner abuse or dating violence, please contact Nicasa Behavioral Health Services at 847-546-6450 or email info@nicasa.org