Handspring Health
November 2, 2022
February 13, 2023

Teen Dating Violence: What parents need to know

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Handspring Health shares information to prevent, identify, and respond to signs that your teen may be in an unhealthy relationship.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Handspring Health shares information to prevent, identify, and respond to signs that your teen may be in an unhealthy relationship.

Conversations surrounding teen dating violence aren't easy. Nor are they something that you look forward to as a parent. Yet with high rates of dating violence among United States teens, it's a discussion that's crucial for our children.

Preventing teen dating violence 

A great place to start is by talking to your child about the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. You don’t have to wait until they start dating. The sooner the better. If your teen is already dating, begin these conversations as soon as possible. 

What is a healthy relationship?

Healthy relationships are built on mutual respect and equality between partners. They are characterized by healthy boundaries, honesty, and communication. Each person's privacy is honored and they feel safe to express their emotions, needs, and wants. Partners listen to and support one another. A healthy partner will take “no” for an answer. They will also support their partner spending time with loved ones or doing things they enjoy.

What is an unhealthy relationship?

An unhealthy relationship is characterized by disrespect, dishonesty, and poor boundaries. They involve one partner trying to control the other through jealousy, guilt-tripping, humiliation, physical aggression, or other forms of abuse. An unhealthy partner will push boundaries, embarrass their partner, or blame them for their actions. They may try to isolate their partner or make threats to keep them in the relationship.

The key to prevention is helping your child learn to identify healthy and unhealthy relationships. You can do this through conversations and by modeling healthy relationship behaviors at home. It’s not uncommon for teens to push away from their parents during their teenage years. Continue to be present and reach out to your child. Remind them that they can always come to you for help. 

Dynamics of teen dating violence

Understanding teen dating violence can help you know what to look for as your teen starts dating. Most folks think of physical abuse when it comes to dating abuse, but it’s much more encompassing than that. Adolescent dating violence involves a teen using a pattern of controlling behaviors toward their teen partner. These behaviors include:

  • Physical abuse and intimidation (E.g. pushing, slapping, damaging property)
  • Emotional and verbal abuse (E.g. put downs, yelling, belittling, threatens self-harm)
  • Sexual abuse (E.g. unwanted touches, rape, coercion, revenge porn)
  • Digital abuse (E.g. checking partner’s phone and social media or sharing intimate photos of partner online)
  • Stalking and harassment (E.g. showing up at partner’s home, classes, and extracurriculars, tracking them on social media, or excessively calling or texting)

It can feel overwhelming as a parent to think about what teen dating violence can look like for victims. Sometimes as a way to ease our minds, we might think,

this couldn’t happen to my kid


this type of thing doesn’t go on in my neighborhood

But it happens in every community, regardless of income level, religion, family makeup, or culture. Teens of all genders in hetero and LGBTQ relationships can experience dating abuse.

Impact of teen dating violence

The effects of teen dating violence can be expansive and long-lasting. Awareness of these impacts can help you identify when your teen may need help. While each individual is unique, common effects of adolescent dating abuse include:

  • Poor school performance
  • Disruptions in friendships
  • Isolation
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STI)
  • Further victimization in adulthood
  • Physical injuries
  • Substance use
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Death by homicide or suicide

Red flags for victims of dating abuse

Adolescence is a time of constant change and growth. A few of the signs below may be part of the typical changes that come with being a teenager. However, sudden or dramatic changes as well as several of these red flags together may indicate abuse.

  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Missing school
  • Declining school performance
  • Sudden change in mood or behavior
  • Becoming isolated or withdrawn
  • Stopping participation in activities they once enjoyed
  • Worried about upsetting their partner
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Changes in sleep patterns or eating habits
  • Dramatic weight change
  • Low self-esteem
  • Making excuses for their partner
  • Constantly checking their phone
  • Changes in appearance or hygiene practices
  • Substance use
  • Anxiety or depression

Red flags of abusive behavior

Services and interventions are available for teens who abuse their partners. Quickly connecting them with support and accountability can prevent future harm to themselves and others.

  • Belittles, name calls, or puts down
  • Doesn’t take “no” for an answer
  • Doesn’t want their partner to hang out with other people
  • Jealous or possessive
  • Guilt trips their partner
  • Goes through their partner’s phone or social media
  • Uses intimidation (blocks doorways, stands over them, makes threats, damages property)
  • Controls their partner's actions, clothing, or who they hang out with
  • Keeps tabs on their partner’s whereabouts
  • Excessively calls or texts
  • Accuses their partner of cheating
  • Any physical aggression
  • Threatens self-harm

Why don’t teens tell?

There are many reasons teens don't disclose partner abuse, even if they have a great relationship with their parents. They might be embarrassed about the abuse or afraid of the repercussions if they spoke up. Other reasons may include:

  • Believing the abuse is their fault.
  • “It’s my fault he’s angry, I hung out with my friends instead of him.”
  • Minimizing the abuse.
  • “She hasn’t hit me, so it’s not really abuse.”
  • “He just loses his temper sometimes.”
  • Certain controlling behaviors are normalized by society.
  • “It’s not a big deal that they check my phone and snap chat all the time.”
  • “He calls and texts me so much because he loves me.”
  • Their partner has manipulated and gaslit them into thinking that no one will believe them about the abuse.
  • “No one will believe that Josh treats me like this. He’s a straight-A student and on the varsity basketball team.”
  • Their partner has threatened them.
  • “She said she’d kill herself if I broke up with her.”
  • “He threatened to post private photos of me online if I told anyone what’s going on.”

What should I do if I notice red flags?

If you notice warning signs, intervene in a way that prioritizes your teen’s safety but also encourages them to trust you and be honest. Let your teen know you're concerned for their safety and that you're there for them no matter what is going on. You are there to help them and not judge them. If your child discloses abuse,

  • Tell them that you believe them and love them.
  • Thank them for telling you.
  • State that the abuse is not their fault.
  • Let them know that they deserve to be treated with respect.
  • Validate their emotions and concerns regarding the abuse, speaking out, or ending the relationship.

This is a lot to navigate as a parent, but there is help available. You can call the National Domestic Violence hotline or Love is Respect hotline to speak with an advocate. They can help you identify steps to intervene and legal options, create a safety plan, or refer you to a local domestic violence agency.

A safety plan will help you and your teen identify safety measures for when they are at home, school, out in the community, or online. This might include:

  • what to do in an emergency
  • where to go for help
  • safe adults to reach out to for support
  • safety strategies (walking home with a friend, changing class schedule, disabling their location on Snapchat)
  • important phone numbers they can use for help

You can also support your teen by connecting them to other safe adults. Teens can call or text the Love is Respect hotline themselves to speak with a trained advocate. Consider setting them up for therapy with a trauma-informed therapist. Providing safe spaces for your teen to receive help combats the isolation that comes with teen dating violence.

Seeking support?

At Handspring Health, we understand that navigating adolescence is full of challenges. Our team of experts is here to help so that your family doesn’t have to go through it alone.

We provide high-quality therapeutic services for children, adolescents, and young adults. Our trauma-informed therapists use evidence-based practices to provide your family with holistic support. If you’re searching for support for your teen, book a free consultation with us today.


Love Is Respect

National Domestic Violence Hotline

Teen Power and Control Wheel - This is a visual resource that’s helpful when learning about the dynamics of teen dating violence. 


Basile, K.C., et al. “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey - United States, 2019.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020. Accessed January 31, 2023.

Love is Respect. “Create a Safety Plan.” Accessed January 31, 2023.

National Institute of Justice. “Teen Dating Violence.” U.S. Department of Justice. Accessed January 31, 2023.

Ruth W. Leemis, R. W., et al. “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2016/2017 Report on Intimate Partner Violence.” National Center for Injury Prevention and Control - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 2022. Accessed January 31, 2023.

Get Started Today