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Teen Dating and Domestic Violence Awareness Month: What Are the Signs?

teens sitting on the couch not looking at each other after argument

Teen dating can be a wonderful experience filled with excitement, growth, and discovery. However, it can also be a dangerous time for many teens as they navigate the challenges and complexities of romantic relationships. One of the biggest dangers facing teens in their romantic relationships is domestic violence. Domestic violence can take many forms and can occur in any relationship, regardless of the partners’ ages, races, genders, or socio-economic status. Understanding the signs of domestic violence is crucial in order to help teens recognize when they are in an abusive relationship and know what steps they can take to protect themselves.

What is Domestic Violence?

Teen dating violence or domestic violence is defined as a pattern of behavior in which one partner uses physical, psychological, or emotional abuse to control and manipulate the other partner. Domestic violence not only occurs in romantic relationships but can also be seen in familial or friend relationships as well. The cycle of domestic violence takes many forms but will include an escalating pattern of behaviors that puts the abuser in a position of power and control over the victim. These behaviors can include physical violence, such as hitting, kicking, or pushing, as well as psychological violence, such as threatening, belittling, or manipulating. While we are most used to thinking of domestic violence taking place in mature relationships, or a male assaulting a female, domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of age or gender. Teen domestic violence is particularly concerning because it can have lasting effects on the physical, mental, and emotional health of the victim.

What Are the Signs of Domestic Violence?

There are several red flags of domestic violence to watch out for when observing your or your loved ones’ relationships. A few of these red flags include:

  • Controlling behavior
  • Jealousy and possessiveness
  • Physical violence
  • Emotional abuse

One of the most common signs of domestic violence in teen relationships is controlling behavior. This can involve the abusive partner controlling the victim’s every move, from what they wear to who they talk to and where they go. The abuser may also try to control the victim’s finances, possibly by taking their money or preventing them from getting a job. In addition, the abusive partner may try to isolate the victim from their friends and family, making it harder for them to get help.

Another sign of domestic violence is jealousy and possessiveness. The abusive partner may become jealous and possessive over the victim, even if the victim has not given them any reason to be. This can lead to the abuser becoming controlling and demanding, and may even result in the victim being physically or emotionally harmed.

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Physical violence is also a common sign of domestic violence in teen relationships. This can include physical assaults, such as hitting, kicking, or pushing, as well as sexual violence, such as rape or sexual assault. The abusive partner may also use weapons to intimidate or control the victim. Substance abuse or addiction is often a contributor to physical domestic violence. Addiction to substances such as alcohol increases the risk of domestic violence in a relationship. Keep your eyes open for the warning signs of alcohol addiction in your or your loved one’s relationships.

Emotional abuse is another form of domestic violence that is common in teen relationships. This can include belittling the victim, calling them names, or making them feel guilty or ashamed. The abusive partner may also use psychological manipulation to control the victim, like threatening to harm themselves or others if the victim does not comply with their demands. Trauma bonding is common in teen relationships and can often lead to unhealthy emotional relationships and emotional abuse. It is natural to try and comfort another with shared trauma, but be careful that these shared traumas do not develop into an unhealthy or abusive relationship.

Teenagers sit on sofa at home separately after quarrel.
Trauma bonding is common in teen relationships (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Stalking is also a common abuse tactic that many do not realize is a type of teen dating violence. Stalking is a repeated occurrence of unwanted attention even after multiple requests to limit or cut contact. Stalking may be done by a current or previous partner as a form of unwanted contact and control and can cause very real fears of harm. Most victims experience stalking before the age of twenty five and teens are at increased risk for online stalking and cyberbullying by their abusers.

It is important for anyone—but especially teens—to recognize the signs of domestic violence in their relationships so they can take steps to protect themselves and those around them.

What Can You Do?

Teens who are in an abusive relationship should reach out to someone they trust, such as a family member, friend, or school counselor for help. They can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for support and information about their options.

In addition to recognizing the signs of domestic violence, it is also important for teens to educate themselves about healthy relationships. This includes understanding what a healthy relationship looks like and what behaviors are unacceptable in a relationship. Teens can also learn about the warning signs of abuse and how to recognize them. The CDC offers a community program that educates teens on the signs of teen violence and also teaches teens how to get help if they suspect they are experiencing violence or abuse in one of their relationships. It is absolutely possible to heal and build healthy relationships after experiencing domestic violence or a traumatic relationship, but the first step is recognizing the signs and escaping the dangerous relationship.

Final Thoughts

Dating as a teen can be a wonderful experience, but it can also be a dangerous time. Understanding the signs of domestic violence is crucial in order to help teens recognize when a relationship has turned abusive, and knowing what steps to take to protect themselves is not only useful but lifesaving. Anyone who suspects that they may be in an abusive relationship should reach out to someone they trust for help. They can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for support and information. By educating yourself and the teens around you about healthy relationships and the warning signs of abuse, you can help ensure that their dating experiences are safe and positive.