Each February, teen advocates, teenagers, and their loved ones come together to raise awareness about teen dating violence through Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM). Throughout the month, teens and teen advocates provide education and awareness programs about the prevalence of teen dating violence and the warning signs that indicate dating violence is happening in a teen relationship.
This year, the theme for TDVAM is Talk About It, a call to action for teens “to engage in meaningful conversations about healthy relationships and navigate what may be unhealthy or even abusive.” By having these conversations, teens and their loved ones are empowered to seek more support from one another, as well as to increase their awareness of what teen dating violence looks like and how often it happens.
What Is Teen Dating Violence?
Teen dating violence—also known as intimate partner violence among adolescents, intimate relationship violence among adolescents, or adolescent relationship violence—can include physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, harassment, or stalking between individuals aged 12 to 18 who are or have been in a consensual, romantic relationship.
Teen dating violence is not limited to physical abuse. While it can include actions such as hitting, shoving or pushing, biting, and hair-pulling, physical actions do not have to be present to constitute teen dating violence. Behaviors indicating teen dating violence may also include:
- Intentionally embarrassing
- Forcing into non-consensual sexual acts
- Stalking (in person or electronically)
- Monitoring (in person or electronically)
- And more
Unfortunately, teen dating violence is common. As teenagers engage in dating relationships, many haven’t fully matured to be able to engage in the complex communication required for healthy relationships. 1 in 3 teens will experience dating violence in the U.S.
Warning Signs of Teen Dating Violence
Teenagers who are experiencing teen dating violence may not be forthcoming about what they’re experiencing. They may feel shame, embarrassment, or fear of repercussions from parents or other authority figures if they tell the truth about their experiences. This is one reason why loved ones and adults working with teens must learn the signs of teen dating violence.
Of course, recognizing the difference between normal teen behavior and teen dating violence can be challenging. To help, here are some warning signs to help you discover if a teenager in your life may be experiencing teen dating violence.
Changes in Physical Appearance
Teens are known for experimenting with new fashion trends and changing how they express themselves as they learn more about their own identity. But if a teen suddenly starts changing their physical appearance without explanation, this can be an early warning sign of teen dating violence.
Wearing significantly more or less makeup, baggier clothes, or clothes with long sleeves, skirts, or pants could be a sign of physical abuse taking place. Additionally, the presence of bruises, self-harm marks such as cutting, burning, or hair pulling, drastic changes in weight, or using drugs and alcohol can also be signs of teen dating violence.
Changes in Emotional Behavior
Although most teens experience mood swings (sometimes more often than not), changes in emotional behavior are important to recognize, especially if physical violence isn’t taking place. Teens who are experiencing depression, increased anxiety, or drastic mood or personality changes may be victims of teen dating violence.
Some signs to watch out for include changes in motivation at school or in extracurricular activities. Changes in eating behaviors and sleeping habits may also indicate teen dating violence. And if you notice a teen withdrawing from other relationships and social activities, they may be experiencing abuse from a romantic dating partner.
Abusive Partner Behaviors
Sometimes it can be easier to recognize abusive behaviors on behalf of the partner who is inflicting the abuse. If your teen is constantly having to check in with their partner, prove who they’re with and what they’re doing, or reassure their partner, they may be experiencing teen dating violence. Partners who call or text excessively are not engaging in healthy relationship behaviors.
Additionally, if you notice your teen’s partner putting them down, embarrassing them, or trying to isolate them from other friends and family members, they may be engaging in abusive behaviors.
What To Do If You Think You Recognize Teen Dating Violence
If you think you recognize teen dating violence, there are a number of things you can do to take appropriate, helpful actions.
First, if you are a teen who is experiencing teen dating violence (or you think you might be), trust your intuition. Research shows that abusive behaviors increase in severity over time rather than decrease. It’s important to prioritize your safety and create an action plan before the abuse gets worse. Start by talking about your fears with a trusted family member or friend. You can also call a domestic violence hotline (below) to discuss options that will help you stay safe and protected.
If you are a parent, friend, family member, or another supporter of a teen you suspect is experiencing dating violence, start a conversation with them. Remember they may be reluctant to leave an abusive relationship, and do your best to remain sensitive and supportive, yet firm about the importance of their safety. You can also learn more about how to support teens experiencing dating violence by calling or texting one of the resources below.
At Safe Shelter of St. Vrain Valley, we provide special services to help teens who are victims of teen dating violence. We have a teen advocate on staff who can provide teen counseling sessions for free. We also run a teen dating violence advocacy program called Teens Ending Relationship Abuse (TERA).
For more information, help, or support regarding teen dating violence in our community, please contact Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her office at 303-772-0432. You can also call our 24-hour crisis line at 303-772-4422 or text the TERA textline at 720-340-8372.
At Safe Shelter, we are here to serve you or your loved ones who are experiencing domestic violence. If you or someone you know needs help, do not hesitate to get in contact with us. You can call our office during business hours at 303-772-0432, our 24-hour crisis line at 303-772-4422, or click here to fill out our online question form at any time. All services are available in English and Spanish.