Risk Factors for Teen Dating Violence

Having a romantic relationship is common during the teen years, but not all of these partnerships are healthy. Many teens report experiencing some form of dating abuse. About 10% of young people say their dating partner has physically abused them and as many as 76% percent of teens report emotional and psychological abuse.

No young person should have to experience abuse or suffer the short-term and long-term consequences from it. Understanding what an unhealthy relationship looks like and recognizing signs of abuse are the first steps toward helping to guide and protect your teenager.

Risk factors for teen dating violence
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell.

What Is Teen Dating Violence?

Teen dating violence is defined as physical, verbal, sexual aggression that can occur during a relationship between adolescents. It can occur in person or online and may include stalking. It involves two people who are dating or have dated in the past.

Overall, teen dating violence is a widespread problem that teens often have trouble identifying as unhealthy. Some teens think that teasing, jealousy, and name-calling are a normal part of a relationship. They are often flattered by extreme attention, but their partner's intense actions can be a signal of the controlling behavior that often defines teen dating violence.

Teen Dating Violence Warning Signs

Teens often experience emotional highs and lows. As a result, it can sometimes be difficult for parents and educators to distinguish between normal relationship drama and dating violence. Know the warning signs for dating violence and err on the side of safety to protect your child if you suspect a problem. Teens who might be in a violent relationship may:

Perform Poorly in School

Teens might be too distracted by the demands and challenges of an abusive relationship to focus on their schoolwork.

Have Unexplained Injuries

An abnormal amount of bruises and scratches that teens can't (or won't) reasonably account for may be a sign of physical abuse.

Isolating Themselves

If your teen Isolates themselves from their friends and family members to be with their partner exclusively, this is a sign that a person is trying to monopolize your teen's time and attention in an unhealthy way.

Obsessively Check Their Phone for Messages

They might receive an excessive amount of messages from their partner in a single day, and/or feel panicked if they can't respond right away.

Some individual partnerships can be a tinderbox for problems. Seventy percent of teen dating violence perpetrators who were physically abusive did not continue the behavior in the next relationship, and people who were abused by one person don't always go on to be abused by others. Parents can try to help their children protect themselves by recognizing unhealthy dynamics, like an excessive amount of conflict, early in a relationship.

Risks for Teen Dating Violence

Teens are often heavily influenced by what they experience in their relationships. On the positive side, having several healthy relationships—with friends, family, and trusted adults—can have a positive effect on a teen's emotional development. It may help them both be a good dating partner and insist a dating partner is good to them.

On the other hand, certain life experiences may put a teen at higher risk for being in an abusive partnership or being an abusive partner. If your teen has experienced the following, it doesn't necessarily mean they will have unhealthy or abusive relationships. But they may be more vulnerable.

Risk Factors for Abuse by a Dating Partner

Certain precocious sexual or substance abuse experiences may be risk factors for dating violence. Social difficulties might be, too. If one or more of these behaviors, beliefs, or characteristics sound like your teen or a teen you know, it's a good idea to check in often about the status of their relationships:

  • Being socially isolated or lacking social support
  • Believing that dating violence is acceptable
  • Behaving in aggressive ways toward peers and others
  • Dating at a young age
  • Engaging in sexual activity prior to age 16
  • Experiencing lots of conflicts with the dating partner
  • Experiencing stressful life events like sexual abuse or sexual trauma
  • Having a friend or sibling involved in an unhealthy relationship
  • Having low help-seeking characteristics
  • Having multiple sexual partners
  • Lacking social problem-solving skills
  • Starting menstruation at an early age
  • Using drugs or illegal substances
  • Using emotional disengagement and blaming as coping mechanisms
  • Witnessing community or neighborhood violence
  • Witnessing or experiencing abuse or violence in the home
  • Being parented in a harsh or inconsistent way
  • Lacking supervision and/or warmth from parents

In one study, 32% of young women who went through early puberty said their dating partner had physically or sexually abused them.

Risk Factors for Being an Abusive Dating Partner

Just as it's important to be aware when a teen might be vulnerable to abuse, parents should know when a teen might be at higher risk for perpetrating dating violence. To help protect other teens and get your child the counseling they may need, be on the lookout for the following beliefs or behavioral patterns:

  • Associating with violent peers or others in violent or abusive relationships
  • Believing that it is acceptable to make threats or bully others
  • Experiencing jealousy, possessiveness, and other negative emotions in a relationship
  • Having low-self esteem
  • Having problems managing anger or frustration
  • Lacking parental supervision and support
  • Struggling with a fear of abandonment
  • Struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues
  • Using violence or abuse as a way to express anger or frustration
  • Witnessing violence at home or in the community

Gender Patterns in Teen Dating Violence

There are some gender-associated differences when it comes to teen dating abuse. Some research shows that young men report more physical dating violence, like being pushed, slapped, and kicked, but they are also more likely to "laugh off" the aggression. Young women are more likely to suffer serious injury from dating partners and experience lasting consequences from it, including suicide attempts and depression.

Gay, bisexual, or transgender teens may be even more vulnerable to dating abuse. A study by the Urban Institute Policy Justice Center showed that 43% of LGBTQ youth report physical violence and 59% report psychological abuse from intimate partners.

Teens who may have suffered sexual violence can get help by connecting with the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at the Love is Respect website, by telephone at 866-332-9474, or by texting LOVEIS to 22522.

A Word From Verywell

You can help protect teens from dating violence by helping to model, define, and discuss what healthy partnerships look like. Ideally, this education would take place prior to your child's first date. Being exposed to couples with loving and caring bonds can inspire teens to seek out the same healthy relationships for themselves.

Once teens do begin to date, it's more important than ever to check in often with them, especially if they have risk factors that might make them more vulnerable to being abused or to abusing other. Being in touch with the dynamics of their relationships and communicating your unconditional support can ensure they don't get stuck in a dangerous situation.

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3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs. Dating violence prevention.

  2. Chen FR, Rothman EF, Jaffee SR. Early puberty, friendship group characteristics, and dating abuse in U.S. girlsPediatrics. 2017;139(6):e20162847. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2847

  3. Urban Institute Justice Policy Center. Technology, teen dating violence and abuse, and bullying. Published August 2013.

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