Top Warning Signs of Teen Dating Abuse

Girl Sitting Alone

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 26% of women and 15% of men who were victims of partner violence reported that their first experience of abuse occurred before they turned 18 years old.

February may be designated as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, but teen dating abuse happens year-round.

“As with adult intimate partner violence, many teenagers who experience violence in their dating relationships do not tell anyone,” says Daphne King, EdD, associate professor in the Department of Social Work. “It is important to look out for warning signs and check in with anyone you know experiencing any of the signs.”

If you’re unsure if you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship. Check out the warning signs and seek help immediately if needed.

What is Teen Dating Violence?

Teen dating violence (TDV), also called “dating violence,” affects millions of young people in the U.S. TDV can take place online, in person, or via technology. It’s a form of intimate teen violence that includes the following behaviors:

  • Sexual violence: forcing or attempting to force your partner to indulge in a sex act and/or touching in a sexual manner when the partner does not give consent or is unable to refuse or consent (ex., if the partner is drugged).
  • Physical violence: hurting or attempting to hurt a partner by slapping, kicking, hitting, or using forceable contact.
  • Stalking: a repeated pattern of unwanted attention and/or contact by a partner, current or former, which causes safety concerns or fear for the victim or anyone close to the victim (friends and family members).
  • Psychological aggression: the use of verbal and non-verbal communication to harm a partner emotionally or mentally and to forcibly control.

How Common is TDV?

According to the 2019 data from CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, who reported dating one year before the survey:

  • Approximately 1 in 12 teens had experienced some sexual dating violence
  • Approximately 1 in 12 teens had experienced some form of physical dating violence

Who is at Greater Risk for TDV?

Females experienced higher rates of sexual and physical violence than males. In addition, those who identified in the LGBTQ category (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, or those unsure of their gender identity) had higher rates of sexual and physical dating violence than those who identified as heterosexual.

Teen dating violence is a serious issue that may affect a young person’s current and future lifestyle. It can even lead to physical injury or death.

Because of this, family and friends should attempt to recognize the signs of TDV and support the person they suspect may be involved. Parents, keep the lines of communication open with your children, especially regarding dating and relationships. Sit down with your teen and share all the warning signs that can turn abusive.

1). Fast Relationships

Be wary of relationships that pop out of nowhere. Abusers constantly pinpoint who is more likely to become involved in a fast, intense relationship and those who will exclude friends and family.

Signs You’re Moving Too Fast in Your Relationship

When a new relationship begins to bloom, you feel like you’re floating on a cloud. Hormones start firing, and before you know it, you’re swept off your feet and right into a whirlwind romance.

But, sometimes, you crash back down to earth and realize you may be moving a little too fast. Signs that you may need to slow down include the following:

  • You never talk about the deep stuff: If your relationship is moving at a comfortable pace, no topic should be off limits, including the more important things like where your relationship stands and your future together, in general terms.
  • You talk too much about your future: On the flip side, if you spend too much time discussing marriage and how many kids you’ll have, you are getting ahead of yourself. Yes, those conversations need to happen eventually, but not so early in the relationship.
  • You make unreasonable compromises: Yes, compromise is a part of any healthy relationship, but it should come at a reasonable time. If you sacrifice things important to you to be with this new person or to please them, you should ask yourself if your relationship is moving too fast.
  • You still have a lot to learn about each other: Does love at first sight exist? I hate to sound pessimistic, but probably not. You may be moving too fast if things become serious and you don’t even know their middle name. Do they have siblings? A dog? How much do you truly know about them?
  • Intuition: We’ve all been in our “dream” relationship. At first, everything is great, but then, suddenly, your partner says or does something that wakes you up and gives you an odd feeling or sensation in your gut that you can’t seem to shake.
  • Your friends notice and comment on your fast-moving relationship: Sometimes, we believe we’re moving at a normal pace when we’re actually speeding ahead. But, unfortunately, it’s harder to be objective when we’re in a relationship. So, listen to your friends if they tell you you’re moving too fast.
  • Relationship milestones come quickly: You’re only two months in, and you’ve met each other’s family, co-workers, and pets. Who’s left? If you have given each other promise rings after only two months, you may need to pump the breaks.
  • You say “I love you” before your first real fight: You’re only two months in, and you’ve met each other’s family, co-workers, and pets. Who’s left? If you have given each other promise rings after only two months, you may need to pump the breaks.

2). Abnormal Emotional Behavior

It’s a warning sign if your partner has unpredictable mood swings. Are they displaying normal behavior one minute, but then their mood is angry or sad the next minute?

Unfortunately, young women feel it’s their responsibility to make their partner happy by taking the blame for issues. Young men often attribute abnormal emotional behavior in their partners to mood swings.

3). Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Often, substance abuse is a sign of a much larger behavioral pattern. For example, teens may attempt to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, or other substances. This can lead to abusive behavior.

Signs of substance abuse in teens

Figuring out if a teen is using substances can be difficult because some signs are similar to typical teen behavior. Also, many symptoms of drug use are the same for mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.

If you suspect abuse, err on the side of caution and have an open and honest conversation with your teen. Here are some warning signs to look out for.

Mood and personality shifts

  • less motivated
  • withdrawn
  • hostile, angry
  • secretive
  • hyperactive

Physical health

  • always sick
  • cannot speak intelligibly
  • constantly tired/lethargic
  • sudden weight loss/gain
  • frequent sweating
  • bruising
  • nosebleeds

Appearance and hygiene

  • the smell of smoke on breath or clothes
  • poor hygiene (doesn’t brush teeth, use deodorant)
  • messier than usual
  • frequent red or flushed appearance
  • soot or burns on fingertips
  • track marks on arms (or legs)

Changes in behavior

  • changes in family and friends’ relationships
  • loss of interest in friends, school, or other activities
  • frequently locks their door
  • goes out often and breaks curfew
  • endless excuses
  • always chewing gum or using mints
  • extra secretive with the phone

4). Isolation

Often, an abuser attempts to isolate their partner from family, friends, or anyone else who may recognize the signs. They do this because they risk getting caught in their abusive behavior when someone outside of the relationship questions them. They also want to cover their tracks.

5). Explosive Anger

A recent study indicated that the person being abused is rarely the reason for the abuser’s outbursts. But unfortunately, they are the recipient of it.

In a few cases, an abuser cannot control their behavior, mainly due to anxiety of being caught in their destructive behavior.

Don’t take it for granted if your partner is always angry. It’s a sign that they may have personal issues you know nothing about. Often, the anger has nothing to do with their spouse or partner.

6). The Blame Game

An abusive partner often blames others for issues or their feeling of inadequacy. They believe all their shortcomings are no fault of theirs and that others are to blame.

When they become physically aggressive to their partner, in their eyes, their partner is at fault because they made them do it.

Why Some People Have Issues with Taking Responsibility

Do you know someone who always has an excuse for why they failed? They’re never accountable for their actions. Instead, the reason is always because of this person or that thing.

We all make mistakes, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The problem occurs when people feel they’re perfect and the rules don’t apply to them. If you know someone like this, here are some reasons why they may take issue with being held accountable.

  • Trauma: Some people who dealt with painful abuse, betrayal, rejection, or criticism tend to identify as victims. They are so concentrated on their own emotional pain that they fail to see how they harm others.
  • They feel entitled: They think they’re superior to others and are therefore allowed to do and say what they want without repercussions. Usually, this is an unconscious effort to overcompensate for their feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.
  • Perfectionism: Perfectionist base their self-worth on how they perform and what they achieve. So, making a mistake means they aren’t worthy. It’s an all-or-nothing mentality that magnifies the tiny errors that make them seem like major failures.
  • Shame: When we feel shame, we have an overwhelming feeling of distress and embarrassment. When these feelings occur, people often tend to shut down, hide, deny or lie about their behavior to save themselves from further humiliation.
  • Inability to make a change: Studies show that people who believe they can change are more likely to admit to their mistakes. Taking responsibility for the errors we make is the first step in change. When we resist taking accountability, we resist change.
  • Trauma: Some people who dealt with painful abuse, betrayal, rejection, or criticism tend to identify as victims. They are so concentrated on their own emotional pain that they fail to see how they harm others.
  • They feel entitled: They think they’re superior to others and are therefore allowed to do and say what they want without repercussions. Usually, this is an unconscious effort to overcompensate for their feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.
  • Perfectionism: Perfectionist base their self-worth on how they perform and what they achieve. So, making a mistake means they aren’t worthy. It’s an all-or-nothing mentality that magnifies the tiny errors that make them seem like major failures.
  • Shame: When we feel shame, we have an overwhelming feeling of distress and embarrassment. When these feelings occur, people often tend to shut down, hide, deny or lie about their behavior to save themselves from further humiliation.
  • Inability to make a change: Studies show that people who believe they can change are more likely to admit to their mistakes. Taking responsibility for the errors we make is the first step in change. When we resist taking accountability, we resist change.

7). Rigid Gender Roles

Young men who abuse may believe that aggressive equals masculinity, while submissive means femininity. They can also feel as though they will lose respect if they display their emotions in a loving or caring way toward their partner.

Unfortunately, these same men may feel as though they have the right, as a man, to request sexual satisfaction from their partners.

How to Recognize Chauvinistic Male

  • They treat others with disdain
  • He lacks chivalry
  • He’s a self-appointed critic
  • He has total disregard for other people’s feelings
  • Constantly accuses their partner of overreacting and being emotional

8). Threatens Violence

Some abusers broadcast their malicious intent. Not only do they threaten their partner, but they also threaten to harm their partner’s family and friends. So take it seriously and report it even if threatening in a “joking manner.”

What’s considered emotional violence or abuse?

Conflict and emotional abuse are two separate things. Conflict is a normal part of a relationship and is a healthy way for couples to identify an issue, express emotions, and talk through whatever is bothering them.

However, emotional abuse is non-physical behavior intended to belittle someone else. It includes put-downs, insults, and verbal threats to make the victim feel inferior, shamed, degraded, or threatened.

6 Signs of Emotional Abuse

  • They ignore boundaries and invade your privacy
  • They are judgmental toward you
  • They are manipulative
  • They are controlling and possessive
  • They constantly argue with you
  • They withhold affection because they feel you did something wrong to them
man raising hand to hit woman while woman cowers away

Supporting non-violent, healthy relationships is one way to help eradicate TDV. It is vital teens learn skills to create healthy, long-lasting relationships, including good communication and managing feelings in a healthy manner.

If you’d like to learn more about Teen Dating Violence and its effects on the community, please visit the Dating Matters Website.