Minnesota Day One Crisis Hotline

For Parents

Could your teen be in an abusive relationship?

For Parents

Teen dating violence is more common than you think. Nearly 1/3 of girls surveyed said they know at least one student at school who has been physically abused by a person they were dating.1 The good news is that there is a lot that parents and other caring adults can do to help. You can start by learning more about dating violence from the Teen Dating Violence Q&A below.

1 “Social Control, Verbal Abuse and Violence Among Teenagers: Teen and Parent Opinion” survey, sponsored by Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. and conducted by GFK Custom Research LLC.

 A Parent’s Guide to Teen Dating and Violence

What is Dating Violence (PDF for Teens)

Teen Dating Violence Q&A for Parents

What is Dating Violence?

Dating violence is a pattern of controlling behaviors such as intimidation, confusion, isolation, fear, psychological and sexual violence, which someone uses to gain power against their girlfriend or boyfriend. Dating violence may or may not consist of physical abuse.

How does it differ from domestic violence
Dating violence refers to abusive behaviors between couples that don’t live in the same home. Relationship violence doesn’t just happen between adults who are married or living together. Violence can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any age. Victims are boys and girls, men and women, transgender, non-conforming.

I thought it was mostly an adult issue. How common can it be?
Teen dating violence is more common than you think. As many as 1/3 of all high school and college-age young people experience violence in an intimate or dating relationship. Physical abuse is equally as common between dating couples and married couples.

What are some of the signs of dating violence my teen can watch for?
Abuse in a dating relationship can take many forms and can include a variety of behaviors. Let teens know that someone is abusive if they:

Economic Abuse: Take and control money and/or possessions. Prevent them from getting or keeping a job. Make them owe them for gifts.

Emotional Abuse: Call them names, put them down, and disrespect them. They are always wrong and everything is their fault. Play mind games in person, with friends, or online.

Denial, Minimization, Blame: Deny behavior is abusive. Accuse them of over-reacting or being too sensitive. Blame all arguments and problems on them, manipulate and use their past issues against them.

Double Standards: Make one-sided, hypocritical rules (“I can go out with my friends, but you can’t.”) Control all decision making in the relationship. They give in to avoid arguments.

Intimidation: Destroy property or possessions. Use looks, gestures, and physical presence to inflict fear. Block doorways, throw things, abuse pets/animals, drive recklessly, and/or display weapons. Obsessive amounts of texts, calls, or contact in person or online (stalking behavior).

Isolation: Demand to know where they are at all times. Disapprove of their friends and family. They have no privacy – they always check their social media pages, emails, texts, pictures, and phone calls.

Physical Abuse: Inflict physical abuse (most often in places that others cannot see, such as on the upper arms, back, and thighs.) Physical violence usually does not occur in isolation and is used after other abusive behaviors are already present in the relationship. Direct physical violence can include hitting, choking, pinching, slapping, spitting, pushing, or pinning down, tripping, etc. Indirect physical violence can include behaviors such as throwing things, punching walls, and/or using physical presence to create fear.

Sexual Abuse: Make comments about their body. Control what they wear. Coerce them into being sexual when they do not want to be (nagging, pouting, complaining, intimidating, bribing). Do not take “no” for an answer. Makes them send sexual pictures/videos.

Threats: Say they will hurt them, others, or themselves (suicide) if the relationship ends. Threaten future relationships and/or your personal safety.

What is the Cycle of Dating Violence?

Although each dating partnership is unique, there is a pattern that develops in many abusive relationships. Over time the use of abusive behaviors adds tension and fear into the relationship. The abuse often escalates and cycles between moments of calm, tension building, angry outbursts, and back to a calm honeymoon period again (apologies, promises to change) before the violence begins again.

What are some of the barriers teens face when trying to avoid dating violence or leave an already abusive relationship?
There are some unique reasons teens stay in abusive relationships:

  • In school, students often link status and self-esteem to their relationships
  • Teens in abusive relationships may feel like no one understands their relationship except them
  • They may be in love and want the violence to end, but not the relationship
  • Youth might have mixed feelings about the relationship, and fear that if parents find out they won’t let the couple date any longer
  • They may worry about getting their partner in trouble at home and at school
  • Teens could be concerned about their reputation with friends and peers
  • Without prior healthy relationships to compare to, teens may see this behavior has just what “being in love” is like
  • Youth might fear bringing shame to the family –they don’t want to disappoint their parents
  • They still have to see the abuser at school every day
  • Some youth worry they will be in trouble with their parents for dating in the first place

How can I help my teenager if I think something’s wrong but they don’t want to talk to me about it?
Do you remember how you felt about dating when you were a teenager? You may have acted like you had it all figured out, but chances are you were scared and anxious — just like your teen is now.

Even though they probably won’t bring it up first, teens appreciate knowing their parents care. If you approach the conversation in a laid-back, honest way, they are more likely to listen. Especially if you are truthful about some of the challenges you’ve faced in your own life. Begin with, “How are things going in your relationship? I know it can get complicated — I wasn’t prepared for some of the things I had to deal with when I was your age.” See where your teenager takes it from there.

If you’d like more help talking with your teen about dating violence, speak with a Cornerstone advocate by calling our 24-hour helpline anytime at 952-884-0330.