Relationship violence amongst adolescents and young adults is a form of intimate partner violence that is often misunderstood and overlooked. There is this idea that young people are just emotionally immature and lack experience in developing healthy long term relationships. For many teen relationships, this may be accurate.
For others, there is very real physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that can be occurring beyond what peers, teachers, and parents’ witness. How can teens and parents tell when a relationship has become violent and abusive? Read on for the red flags to look out for.
What is Teen Dating Violence?
Similar to domestic violence, teen dating violence includes relational behavior that is physically dangerous and/or emotionally damaging to one’s mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 11 female and 1 in 15 male high school students report experiencing physical violence by a romantic partner. It’s important to note that the word ‘violence’ does not only pertain to physical violence. Dating abuse can also include emotional abuse, verbal abuse, sexual violence, and stalking.
Teen dating violence has only recently become a more recognized topic around adolescent health. There is fortunately representation of what dating abuse looks like in adult relationships. However, there is much less representation around dating violence amongst adolescents, which makes identifying abusive behaviors challenging.
Teens don’t know what they don’t know, and it is often anxiety-inducing to reach out to an adult when something feels off in a relationship. This can be especially true when sex is involved as our society tends to be squeamish and shaming around adolescent sexuality.
Common Signs of Teen Dating Violence
An abusive partner often attempts to control the relationship as much as they can. This might look like one teen making rules around what their partner can and can’t wear, who they can and can’t talk to, where they can and can’t go, and other demands. When that partner “breaks the rules”, they might be verbally or physically abused, shamed, given the silent treatment, and other forms of punishment.
Gaslighting is one of the most common red flags in unhealthy relationships. Gaslighting is a psychological manipulation tactic in which an abusive person attempts to convince another that their reality is incorrect. For example, perhaps a teen caught their partner being sexually inappropriate with another person. When the teen attempts to confront their partner about the breach of trust, the abusive partner will try to convince the them that they have no idea what they’re talking about and that they are accusing them of something that never happened.
Sexual assault can take many forms when it comes to teen dating violence. Assault amongst teens is often aided by the presence of alcohol and/or drug consumption, resulting in a person being unable to consent. It’s also common for teens to feel pressured or coerced into sex when they have a partner that is guilting them into sexual activity that they may not be enthusiastically willing or ready to participate in. Since many high schools do not teach consent in sex education, many teens have no idea when they experience a violation or when to stop sex if a partner seems uncomfortable or is inebriated.
Stalking can happen physically when someone monitors and follows another, but when it comes to teen dating violence, digital stalking seems to be more common. Teens tend to spend a lot of time on social media which makes the platforms a form of easy access to tracking what someone is doing, where they are, and who they are engaging with. An abusive partner might obsessively track a love interest’s social media accounts and send harassing messages, show up uninvited to where they are, and feel entitled to unlimited access to them.
Any kind of physical harm a teen experiences within a relationship is abuse – full stop. Physical abuse can include hitting, slapping, pulling, pinching, kicking, pushing, and anything else that is obviously or potentially harmful to one’s body. It doesn’t matter if the harm is visible or not visible, painful or not painful – any unwanted physical touch is abuse and inexcusable.
Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention
Healthy teen relationships are possible and can be a completely normal part of adolescence. It’s imperative for teens, parents, teachers, and school counselors to know what behavior to look out for and to not minimize teen dating violence simply as immature young love. Integrating educational curriculum to identify teen dating abuse can aid in safety planning, awareness, prevention, and intervention so teens have the best chance to develop happy present and future relationships.