9 Ways to Prevent Teen Dating Violence

Crying teen under blanket

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Imagine being in a high school hallway, watching crowds of teenagers traveling to their classes. As a blond girl and her tall boyfriend walk by hand-in-hand, you might be impressed with how close they seem. But if you look a little closer, you would see that something is terribly wrong with our hypothetical couple.

She is wearing long sleeves on a humid day (to hide the bruises on her arms where he squeezed her when he was angry). She also has stopped curling her long blonde hair and now wears it in a simple ponytail. (Her boyfriend tells her she looks better this way, but really he doesn't want her long, golden hair to attract attention at school.)

When her phone vibrates with an incoming text message, he grabs it from her and reads it. (He has all her passwords and monitors all her communication, even the messages from her parents.) The message on her phone is from a friend. She wants to come over after school. He tells her to say she can't hang out tonight. (She has to spend all her time with him now.)

Eventually, her friends give up and stop calling and texting. In return, she feels alone, isolated, and confined. Still, she doesn't know what to do and no one is around to help her. She is trapped in an abusive and controlling relationship with no ideas about how to get out.

There are countless stories just like this one happening in the hallways of our nation's schools every day.

Young women between the ages of 16 and 24 are at the greatest risk for intimate partner violence.

And yet these subtle stories of abuse are often going unnoticed. Many young people just do not know how to prevent teen dating violence or how to recognize abuse. And even if they do, they have no idea what to do to end it.

How Big Is the Issue?

According to a 2017 meta-analysis of teens ages 13 to 18, around 14% of girls have experienced sexual dating violence compared to 8% of boys. Over one in five adolescents have experienced physical dating violence at some point in their lives. Among high schoolers specifically, nearly 8% of teens who date experience physical abuse each year. These numbers are more than just statistics. They represent an epidemic.

An alarming number of young people will experience relationship abuse in some form long before they even enter college. But a large majority have no idea how to identify abuse, and even if they did, they may not know how to handle it.

In fact, 57% of college students say dating violence is difficult to identify, and 58% have no idea how to help someone who is experiencing it.

For these reasons, it is essential that teen dating violence prevention occurs long before young people get serious about dating.

To prevent teen dating violence, parents and educators need to cultivate a deeper and truer understanding of what teen dating violence is, especially among preteens and very young teens. Here are nine things you can do to prevent teen dating violence.

End It Before It Begins

When it comes to preventing teen dating violence, the ultimate goal is to stop the violence before it even begins. As a result, the most effective prevention begins by educating preteens and young teens about how to form healthy relationships with others. It also involves teaching them important life skills like assertiveness and solid communication skills. They also should learn how to disagree with others in a healthy and respectful way.

Help Teens Recognize Warning Signs

Abuse and bullying in a dating relationship involve more than just hitting, kicking, slapping, and punching. In fact, most abusive relationships start out with subtle signs that many teens mistake for love.

The most common warning signs are displaying jealousy, asking for passwords to one's devices or accounts, and insisting on spending every free moment together.

At first, it is easy to believe these behaviors demonstrate how much the other person cares. But in reality, these are often controlling actions that often lead to more attempts to control. Teach your kids that any act of control or violence is a warning sign, and they may need to reconsider the relationship, even if the other person apologizes and promises to never do it again. Controlling behaviors and violence in a relationship usually do not improve or go away. Instead, the behavior often escalates.

Empower Bystanders With Ideas on How to Get Help

It can be painful to watch a friend be abused by their romantic partner and not know what to do. Abuse is an extremely difficult subject to discuss with a friend, but teens need to realize that remaining silent when someone they care about is being hurt does not fix the situation. They may not be able to force their friend to leave the relationship, but they can offer emotional support or convince their friend to get professional help. Make sure your teen knows what to do when they witness someone being bullied or abused.

Become a Trusted Information Source 

Resist the urge to allow locker room talk, slumber parties, and television to become your teen's only source of information.

Initiate a conversation about relationships. Use a scene from a movie, an excerpt from a book, or a news story to get the conversation started. Talk about what is healthy and what is not healthy in a relationship.

And don't shy away from difficult topics like sex. And be sure to listen to what your teen has to say. Also, discuss the importance of respect in a relationship. Make sure your teen knows that they deserve respect. Likewise, they need to be respectful to others.

Discuss the Good and the Bad About Relationships

Most teens view dating and relationships through a romantic lens. In the beginning, they are excited, happy, and filled with hope. Be supportive of these expectations, but also prepare them for the normal ups and downs of relationships. Make sure they know that while disagreements are normal, handling them in an aggressive or disrespectful way is not normal. Likewise, violence, abuse, name-calling, and sexual bullying are not normal. It also is not healthy for a partner to pressure the other person to engage in sexting. Then, be sure to equip them with suggestions on how to get out of bad situations. For example, they can say: "I am not comfortable with this."

Teach Teens to Be Assertive

Equipping kids and teens with the ability to clearly state their feelings, opinions, and desires is one of the best things a parent can do.

As your kids grow, look for opportunities for them to practice sharing their thoughts and feelings. And when you can, empower them to say no to things they do not want to do.

For instance, let them know that it is acceptable to ask someone to leave their home when they are being rude, disrespectful, or mean. They could say something like: "I want you to leave now." It is also acceptable to turn down social engagements like going to the mall or a party. Practicing assertiveness skills early helps prepare them for the tough situations down the road like peer pressure, bullying, and dating abuse.

Talk About Healthy and Unhealthy Behaviors

One of the first behaviors to discuss is the difference between control and collaboration. It is not uncommon for kids to want their way. But they need to learn that this cannot always be the case. Explain that trying to "control" a situation by manipulating, demanding, or even bullying is not healthy. Instead, a better, healthier alternative would be to negotiate, problem-solve, or collaborate.

Likewise, if someone in their life, either a bullying boyfriend or a mean girl, tries to control a situation rather than work together to find a solution, they need to recognize that this is not healthy. Other behaviors to discuss are the differences between people-pleasing and being giving. It is healthy to be generous and empathetic. But it is not healthy for your child to ignore their own wants and needs hoping to make someone like them.

Create a "No Secrets" Policy

Abusive relationships often lead to secrets. For instance, young people know that what is happening is not right, but instead of talking about it, they keep it a secret. Explain to your teens that secrets require things to be "hidden" from others and hiding things is not healthy. What's more, secrecy isolates people from their family and friends. 

Make sure your teen knows that relationships that involve a lot of secrecy usually also contain a lot of other hurtful behaviors like manipulation.

Teach your kids that being strong does not mean trying to solve their problems on their own. Instead, being strong means having the courage to tell someone about the things going on in their lives and asking for help.

Know When to Get Involved

Any time you recognize small changes in your child's behavior, like a change in mood, sleeping patterns, or eating habits, you should take notice. Even a drop in grades, fewer friends hanging around, or dropping a once favorite sport are causes for concern. Often these changes are early warning signs that something is going on in your teen's life that is upsetting them. Ask how things are going and see what your child says. They may not open up at first, but with a consistent interest in their life, they may start to talk.

If your teen is being abused, do not try to handle the situation on your own. The most effective plans for getting your daughter or son out of an abusive relationship involve a team of people including you, a school professional, and sometimes even the police.

8 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.
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  2. Wincentak K., Connolly J, Card N. Teen dating violence: A meta-analytic review of prevalence ratesPsychol Violence. 2017;7(2):224-241. doi:10.1037/a0040194

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Survey: Data Summary & Trends Report 2007-2017.

  4. Love Is Respect. Setting boundaries in a relationship.

  5. National Domestic Violence Hotline. Escalation.

  6. Drouin M, Ross J, Tobin E. Sexting: a new, digital vehicle for intimate partner aggression? Comput Hum Behav. 2015;50:197-204. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.04.001

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  8. RAINN. Warning Signs for Teens.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.