Teen Dating Violence – Has It Ever Happened to You?

While many people may be familiar with crisis of domestic violence in our nation, awareness of dating violence in teen relationships is not as prevalent.  Understanding, identifying and breaking the pattern of teen dating violence have crucial implications for a teen’s future.  Experiencing dating violence as a teen places a teen at significant risk for abusive relationships in adulthood.

In a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 5 adult women and approximately 1 in 7 adult men who experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner report that they first experienced some form of partner abuse between the ages of 11 and 17.  Per the US Department of Justice, 1 in 3 teens experience some kind of abuse in their romantic relationships, but only 33% of teens tell anyone about it.

Equally shocking is parental lack of awareness of what their teen is suffering.  For example, a study by the U.S. Department of Justice found that 82% of parents whose teen was receiving 10 – 30 harrassing texts per hour from their romantic partner were not aware this was occurring.  Teen dating violence occurs within every socioeconomic status, race and culture, with the abuser and victim being of either or the same gender.  However, for the purpose of this article the victim will be identified by female pronouns and the abuser by male pronouns.

Violence in dating relationship can take the form of emotional, physical, sexual abuse or stalking.  Examples include:

  • Emotional:  Criticizing, insulting, shaming, and belittling comments. Yelling and name-calling.  Dictating what she can wear, music to listen to, whether or not she can get a job, and if so, what kind.   Continuous, unfounded accusations or interrogation of what she does and with whom she spends time.  This may result in her spending less time with friends and family to avoid his rages and questioning.   The boyfriend blames her for his problems, and for being a problem to him.  Tells her no one will love or want her if she breaks up with him, or, he may threaten to kill himself and/or her if she leaves him.
  • Physical:  hitting, pinching, hair-pulling, punching, burning choking, kicking, being hit by thrown objects.
  • Sexual:  Rape.  Being  forced to perform unwanted sexual acts with him, or with his friends.  Forced to have sex without use of protection.  Makes her watch him have sex with another girl.
  • Stalking:  emailing, calling or texting her incessantly (10 or more times an hour) to check on her whereabouts or to justify what she is doing.   Showing up unexpectedly when she is out with other friends.  Leaving threatening notes in her school locker or on the windshield of her car.

The abused teen may not admit to being abused or even realize she is in an abusive relationship.  When meeting with a teen and/or her parents/caregivers, it is recommended to assess for the following as these could possibly indicate the teen is in an abusive relationship:

  • multiple, recurring and unexplained bruises or marks
  • decline in academic performance
  • increasing isolation from family and other friends
  • numerous somatic complaints such as headaches and stomaches
  • significant change in bathing, dressing and other self-care habits
  • stops doing enjoyed activities to spend time with her boyfriend
  • she is afraid of being around her boyfriend and equally afraid not to be around him because she knows how upset he becomes
  • she makes excuses or apologizes for her boyfriend’s mood and behavior to her friends and family
  • she is having more arguments and fights with her parents
  • she feels like she must watch everything she does or says when with him and will do anything to please him to avoid angering him
  • she believes him when he says that she is responsible for how he treats her

Caregivers may feel guilty about not knowing their teen is being abused, or they may blame the teen for not telling them what occurred when the abuse is finally revealed.  Such feelings are best addressed and processed by the therapist with the parents only.  It’s important to let the parents know that sharing their feelings of guilt or blame with the teen is not helpful, and may dissuade her from openly communicating with the parents about any other abusive incidents or contact with the boyfriend that might occur in the future.  Parents should encourage and support her involvement in extracurricular activities and contact with friends.

Laura Mirhoseini, Psy.D.  is a psychologist at Aurora Behavioral Health Center-Burlington.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing teen dating violence, contact Aurora Behavioral Health Services at 877-666-7223,  visit our web site, or access the National Teen  Dating Abuse Hotline 1-866-331-9474, 1-866-331-8453 TTY or Text “loveis” to 77054 (Peer advocates are available to talk, text, or chat online 24/7)