Teen Relationship Abuse

Overview

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Teen dating abuse is a pattern of abusive behavior used to control another person. It can be:

  • Any kind of physical violence or threat of physical violence to get control.
  • Emotional or mental abuse, such as playing mind games, making you feel crazy, constantly texting you, or constantly putting you down or criticizing you.
  • Sexual abuse, including making you do anything you don't want to do, refusing to have safer sex, or making you feel bad about yourself sexually.

Teen dating violence is just as serious as adult domestic violence. And it's common. About 2 in 10 teen girls say they have been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner. About 1 in 10 teen boys reports abuse in dating relationships.

Who is at risk of teen relationship abuse?

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

What can happen if you are in an abusive relationship?

Relationship abuse is dangerous for you physically and emotionally. It can also put you at risk for other health problems, such as:

Teens in abusive relationships are also 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 infections (STIs).

How can a teen know if a relationship is abusive?

Teens who abuse their girlfriends or boyfriends do the same things as adults who abuse their partners. Teen dating violence is just as serious as adult domestic violence. And it's common.

In adult domestic violence, women are more often the victim. In teen relationship abuse, both boys and girls report abuse about equally. But boys tend to start the violence more often and use greater force.footnote 1

Abusive relationships have good times and bad times. Part of what makes dating violence so confusing is that there is love mixed with the abuse. This can make it hard to tell if you're really being abused.

You deserve to be treated in a loving, respectful way at all times by your boyfriend or girlfriend.

Ask yourself these questions. Does your boyfriend or girlfriend:

  • Have a history of bad relationships or past violence?
  • Always blame his or her problems on other people?
  • Blame you for "making" him or her treat you badly?
  • Put you down in front of friends?
  • Try to use drugs or alcohol to get you alone when you don't want to be?
  • Try to control you by being bossy, not taking your opinion seriously, or making all of the decisions about who you see or what you wear?
  • Talk about people in sexual ways or talk about sex like it's a game or contest?
  • Pressure you to have or force you to have unprotected sex?
  • Constantly text you or call you to find out where you are and who you're with? You might think that's about caring, but it's really about controlling your relationship.
  • Threaten to hurt or kill himself or herself?

Do you:

  • Feel less confident about yourself when you're with him or her?
  • Feel scared or worried about doing or saying "the wrong thing"?
  • Find yourself changing your behavior out of fear or to avoid a fight?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be in an abusive relationship. Talk to your parents or another adult family member, a school counselor, or teacher. Or you can get help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) or go to www.thehotline.org or the National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline at 1-866-331-9474 (www.loveisrespect.org).

Remember, you're not alone. Talking really does help. And without help, the violence will only get worse.

How can a parent help their teen?

Teens may not have the experience or maturity to know if their relationships are abusive. A teen may think of dating violence as only physical violence—pinching, slapping, hitting, or shoving. Teens may not realize that any relationship involving physical violence, sexual violence, emotional abuse, or the threat of violence is an unhealthy relationship.

For example, a teen may think his or her partner cares when he or she calls, texts, emails, or checks in all the time. But that kind of behavior is about controlling the relationship.

Talk with your teen about what makes a healthy relationship. Explain that a caring partner wouldn't do something that causes fear, lowers self-esteem, or causes injury. Let teens know that they deserve respect in all of their relationships. Think about values and messages that you want to pass on.

You might start by asking your teen:

  • Is your boyfriend or girlfriend easy to talk to when there are problems?
  • Does he or she give you space to spend time with other people?
  • Is he or she kind and supportive?

If you are concerned about your teen, there are people who can help you. You're not alone. Consider talking to a school counselor or your family doctor. Call a help center or hotline to get help. National hotlines can help you find resources in your area:

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

References

Citations

  1. Roberts TA, et al. (2003). Longitudinal effect of intimate partner abuse on high-risk behavior among adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 157(9): 875–881.

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