Teen relationship abuse

Abuse in dating relationships is common among preteens and teens. About 1 in 5 teen girls say they have been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner. About 1 in 10 teen boys report abuse in dating relationships.1

Teen dating abuse, like domestic violence in adults, is a pattern of abusive behavior used to control another person. Teen dating abuse can include emotional, mental, physical, and sexual abuse.

Teen abusers may be overly possessive or jealous. They try to control their dating partners by:

  • Being bossy and making all the decisions.
  • Putting them down in front of friends.
  • Threatening to or hurting themselves.
  • Threatening to kill themselves.
  • Stalking them.
  • Forcing them to have sex.

Like adult domestic violence, teen relationship abuse affects all types of teens, regardless of their how much money their parents make, what their grades are, how they look or dress, their religion, or their race. Teen relationship abuse occurs in heterosexual, gay, and lesbian relationships.

Teens may not have the experience or maturity to know when they are involved in an abusive relationship. A teen may think his or her partner cares when he or she calls, texts, e-mails, or checks in all the time, but this behavior may be about controlling the relationship. The pattern of abuse is often repeated violence or other behaviors that get worse over time. Often the abuser quickly apologizes and promises to change.

Relationship abuse not only poses direct dangers for teens but also puts them at risk for other problems, such as eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem. Teens in abusive relationships are more likely to take sexual risks, do poorly in school, and use drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Girls are at higher risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

If you think a relationship might be abusive, see the Check Your Symptoms section of the topic Domestic Abuse. Many helpful resources exist, but teens must first be willing to talk about the abuse. If you think you or a friend might be in an abusive relationship, talk to your parents or another adult family member, a school counselor, or teacher. These national hotlines can help you find resources in your area.

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline toll-free: 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233), or see the Web site at www.ndvh.org.
  • The National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline toll-free: 1-866-331-9474 or (1-866-331-8453 TTY).

Citations

  1. Ackard DM, et al. (2007). Long-term impact of adolescent dating violence on the behavioral and psychological health of male and female youth. Journal of Pediatrics, 151(5): 476–81.

Last Updated: January 20, 2010

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