By:Amanda Dominique

Child Abuse Prevention Advocate, White River Women’s Shelter

In the rollercoaster of teenage life, navigating relationships can be challenging for teens and their parents. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and teen dating violence is often a topic that flies under the radar. This article is here to break it down in a way that speaks to both teens and parents. We will cover some of the warning signs and protective factors. But it’s not all challenges; we’re also providing parents with a road map to talk to their teens about dating.

Teen dating violence is defined by the National Institute of Justice as any physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional abuse, as well as stalking within the context of a past or present romantic relationship or consensual relationship amongst persons ages 12–18. In the past, efforts to combat dating violence were aimed mainly at college-aged people, but as more research has come out about dating violence, it has been broadened to cover people ages 12–24.

The CDC identifies five categories of abuse.

Physical abuse is hitting, kicking, slapping, or any use of physical force towards another person.

Forcing or attempting to force a partner to take part in a sex act, sexual touching, or nonphysical sexual event like sexting when a partner does not or cannot consent is sexual abuse.

Psychological aggression refers to behavior that involves the use of verbal, non-verbal, or other communication methods to cause emotional or mental harm to another person. That can look or sound like intimidation, insulting or threatening, gas lighting, constant criticism, isolating an intimate partner from friends, family, or other social groups, humiliating or embarrassing an intimate partner, or any behavior that negatively impacts a person’s mental and emotional well-being.

Stalking in the context of teen dating violence refers to a pattern of repeated, intrusive, and unwanted behaviors intended to monitor, control, or intimidate a romantic partner. These behaviors can be carried out both online and offline and may include persistent texting, calling, or messaging, monitoring the individual’s social media accounts, tracking their whereabouts, or even showing up uninvited at places they frequent. Stalking in teen dating violence is a serious issue that can cause significant emotional distress and fear for the victim. It is a violation of personal boundaries.

Cyber dating abuse is the use of technology to control, harass, threaten, or stalk in the context of a dating relationship. This can be pressuring a partner to send explicit images, spreading rumors through messaging platforms, or using information on social media as blackmail.

Did you know that 1 in 3 adolescents has experienced physical, emotional, or sexual violence from a dating partner and that 40 percent of teenage girls know or have known someone who has experienced physical abuse? This only accounts for the abuse that gets reported. We know that when teens experience dating violence, they are extremely unlikely to seek help afterward. In fact, only 8.6 percent of the teens who reported violence in their relationships also reported seeking help afterward, and of that group, 77.2 percent turned to a peer for help. So you may wonder, what puts a teen at a higher risk of experiencing or perpetuating teen dating violence? It comes down to a few groups. Qualities like gender and sexual orientation, if they are involved in any other risky behaviors such as substance abuse, truancy, fighting, or risky sexual behavior, put teens at a heightened risk of dating violence. Research shows that teens often associate with peers who think and act similarly to themselves, and friend groups are often not diversified at this age, so it is easy that the thoughts and actions of one can become those of the group. This can become a model for teens for what is considered okay, normal, and healthy. Research suggests that family involvement has a strong influence on whether a teen will be a perpetrator or victim of teen dating violence. There is substantial evidence that links child maltreatment to negative outcomes later in life as well. The community where a teen grows up also has an influence on them. The community’s attitude toward violence can affect how often teen dating violence occurs.

Just as there are risk factors, there are also traits that help your teen become less likely to experience dating violence. There is a lot of research that shows that teens with strong self-regulation skills and the ability to control their own behaviors tend to exhibit less aggressive behaviors. High levels of empathy, verbal intelligence, and cognitive dissonance were also found to be protective factors against teen dating violence. Having a positive social circle that promotes healthy relationship dynamics, communal support, and strong social skills is also seen as a protective factor in teen dating violence, especially in girls. Maternal warmth and acceptance contribute to children’s development of self-regulation skills, which also protect against later teen dating violence, and this effect is still seen when children are exposed to violence and maltreatment at home. When a neighborhood takes a stand against dating violence and has appropriate consequences for violent actions, that is also seen as a protective measure and can decrease the effect of teen dating violence.

The impact of experiencing violence in a romantic relationship has both short- and long-term effects on teens. Teens who experience violence in their relationships are at an elevated risk of other physical and behavioral health consequences. These may include substance use, depression, anxiety, engagement in violence or fighting, eating disorders or binge eating, risky sexual behavior, and thoughts or attempts of suicide. Additionally, they are more vulnerable to experiencing dating violence extending into young adulthood.

Only 33 percent of teens who are in an abusive relationship tell anyone about the abuse while it is happening, and 81 percent of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or don’t know if it is. Talking to your teens about relationships can help them recognize warning signs and stay in healthy relationships. There is no easy solution, but open dialogue can encourage them to seek support (from you or someone else) if they are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Do not push if your teen is not ready to talk. Make sure they know you are there for them and try again another time.

Parenting in an unhealthy or abusive relationship compounds difficulties, as safety concerns extend to both you and your child. Exposure to domestic violence can significantly impact children, leading to potential behavioral and psychological issues. They may normalize such behaviors, struggle with trust and boundaries, or even experience PTSD symptoms. Seeking help is vital. Discuss the situation with your child, emphasizing that their role is to stay safe, not solve your problems. Educate them on healthy relationships, and if uncomfortable discussing it, seek guidance from a trusted adult. Leaving is tough but prioritize safety. Contact the White River Women’s Shelter hotline at 870-523-5000 for support. Other ways you can reach us is to call our administration office at 870-523-5403, visit, or by visiting our Facebook page at