Teen abusive relationships

1 in 12 High School Students Experience Teen Abusive Relationships: Here’s How You Can Help

In the top-rated television series, “13 Reasons Why,” there is a relationship between two characters, Hannah Baker and Justin Foley. In one episode, Justin takes a compromising photo of Hannah without her consent and then circulates it without her knowledge.

This invasion of privacy, and Justin’s subsequent silence about it, highlight elements of the manipulation, coercion, and emotional abuse that often characterize unhealthy relationships.

Teen dating violence (TDV) is a form of intimate partner violence that involves one person exerting power and control over another through various forms of mistreatment, including emotional manipulation, humiliation, and even physical harm. The show illustrates how such relationships can harm a teen’s emotional and mental well-being, and emphasizes the importance of recognizing the signs of TDV and seeking help when needed.

Statistics reveal a staggering reality: 1 in 12 high school students, regardless of sexual orientation, experiences relationship abuse. Even more concerning is that many parents remain unaware of their child’s suffering. Here, we delve into how to recognize and intervene in physically, emotionally, and psychologically abusive teenage relationships.

How to Recognize Intimate Partner Violence in Teen Dating

Teen relationship violence takes many forms, including cyber-dating abuse. Here are the four major types of intimate partner violence in teen dating:

Physical Dating Violence

In a healthy relationship, partners communicate their needs and frustrations openly and clearly. However, an unhealthy relationship may turn physically violent, especially during heated arguments.

Physical dating violence includes hitting, shoving, kicking, or any other form of behavior, such as throwing things, meant to hurt a partner physically. Evidence of physical dating violence includes bruises, cuts, broken bones, or teens wearing concealing clothing to hide injuries.

Sexual Dating Violence

Sexual violence is a hallmark of an abusive relationship. Sexual dating violence may look like this:

  • Forcing a partner into sexual acts
  • Taking and sharing intimate photos without the partner’s consent
  • Sexting or sending explicit pictures or videos to a non-consenting partner

Psychological Abuse

Psychological or emotional abuse is a form of intimate partner violence meant to intimidate, isolate, or degrade the partner. Some forms of psychological abuse include:

  • Gaslighting, where the abusive partner manipulates what is real to create doubt and make the other party question their sanity.
  • Verbal abuse and consistent use of insulting language, degrading nicknames, and demeaning name-calling.
  • Isolation is another form of emotional abuse where the problematic partner aims to control or cut off who their partner is spending time with, including family and friends.

Cyber Dating Abuse

Cyber-dating abuse, also known as digital abuse, is becoming increasingly common among teens. It includes using social networks to stalk, harass, or intimidate a partner. Digital abuse sometimes involves incessant texts or calls to induce fear, or unauthorized use of a partner’s social media accounts.

By being vigilant about these forms of dating violence, parents and the community can help recognize the trauma and address abuse in teen dating early, potentially preventing further harm.

The Lasting Impact of Teen Dating Violence

A gaslighting partner can make you feel unsafe and unsure of your recollection of events.
A partner engaged in gaslighting can make you feel unsafe and unsure of your recollection of events.

The repercussions of teen dating violence extend far beyond adolescence. The Centers for Disease Control refers to teen dating violence as an adverse childhood experience that affects brain development, immune systems, and stress-response systems. Some signs that may manifest in adolescents include:

Depression and Anxiety Symptoms

Teens who have experienced abuse, such as sexual violence, may have depression and anxiety symptoms, including sadness and panic attacks. They may also have a negative self-image and suffer from low self-esteem.

Unhealthy Behavior

Many teens who have gone through physical violence or sexual abuse in dating may be prone to risky sexual activity and substance abuse. They may experiment with tobacco, drugs, or alcohol.

Suicidal Thoughts

When a dating partner experiences psychological aggression, he or she may internalize the abuse and resort to self-injury to deal with the emotional pain. The victim also may show signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

How to Intervene in an Abusive Relationship

Recognizing abuse in a relationship can be alarming, whether you are the abused partner or a parent or friend of the affected person. There are ways you can help end the abuse.

If you are a victim of an abusive relationship:

  • End the relationship and prioritize your safety and well-being. 
  • Talk to someone you trust, such as a friend or family member.
  • Practice internet safety by protecting your online presence. Change your email and social network passwords.
  • Text DESERVE to 741-74, a Youth Crisis Hotline, for free counseling services and empathetic emotional support.
  • Give yourself grace and compassion. Healing is a process; it is okay if you sometimes miss your partner or occasionally feel that you are still in love. 

At any given moment, you have the power to say: “This is not how the story is going to end.”

– Christine Mason Miller

If someone you care about is experiencing teen dating violence:

If the adolescent is in imminent danger, please get in touch with authorities immediately.

  • Bring it up.
    Approach the topic of dating violence by discussing what healthy relationships look like. This will give you an opening to gently point out the abusive aspects of the relationship.
  • Focus on the behaviors of their abusive partner.
    Your teen may still be attached to his or her partner, and the first instinct may be to side with the partner. Rather than passing negative judgment, focus on the partner’s abusive behavior.
  • Believe them.
    Believe what they tell you, and don’t doubt them. Instead, focus on ensuring they’re safe.
  • Create a safety plan.
    Work on an action plan together, whether to leave the relationship or establish solid boundaries. 
  • Document evidence.
    If they are comfortable with it, help them document any evidence of abuse, such as text messages, pictures, or injuries. This may be important for legal purposes later.
  • Encourage professional help.
    Suggest they seek assistance from a counselor, therapist, or support group experienced in dealing with teen dating violence.

Reach Out for Help Now!

Young people experiencing TDV can talk to a trusted adult to help them take the next step.
Young people experiencing TDV can talk to a trusted adult to help them take the next step.

There are many resources that adolescents and parents can use to seek professional help or more information on teen abusive relationships.

SafeHaven assists survivors of intimate partner violence by working to keep victims safe and holding offenders accountable. Reach them on their hotline at 1-877-701-7233 or visit their website for more information.

The Women’s Center helps teens who have experienced sexual or physical abuse. Contact them at 817-927-2737 for counseling services that help promote healing for every survivor.

Don’t face teen dating violence alone. Whether you are a teen trying to break out of unhealthy relationships or a parent supporting their child, it’s never too late to overcome the hurt. Seek professional help or more information through available resources. Together, let’s break the silence and create a safer environment for our youth.

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