Written by Amritha Sridhar, LMSW. Clinical Review by Jenny Ryan, LCSW-C.
Dating abuse can happen to anyone, so it’s important to know the warning signs and keep an eye out for them in your own relationships and the relationships of people around you.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so we encourage you to take time to learn about what dating abuse is and how it can show up in adolescent relationships.
Common Types of Teen Dating Abuse
Put simply, dating abuse refers to a pattern of behavior where one partner seeks to gain power and control over the other. Abuse can take many different forms, so don’t assume a relationship is healthy just because you don’t see clear signs of one specific type of abuse.
Physical Abuse is often easiest to identify through marks left on the victim’s body. Examples include hitting, slapping, punching, holding you down, breaking property, using or threatening to use a weapon, and strangulation.
Emotional and Verbal Abuse involves manipulating, belittling, or isolating a partner. It can destroy self-esteem and make someone feel worthless. Emotional and verbal abuse may include insults, name calling, accusations of cheating, telling someone what they can or cannot do, or calling someone worthless.
Psychological Abuse is characterized by gaslighting, mind games, and threats. The abuser often uses fear to control their partner. This can look like refusal to listen, constant criticism, silent treatment, making a partner feel bad about being upset, and telling someone they’re overreacting.
Digital Abuse is more common than ever as technology use continues to increase among teens. It can include constant monitoring of digital devices, harassment, creating fake profiles, tracking someone without consent, cyberbullying, sending threatening text messages, or using explicit photos as a means of control.
Sexual Abuse involves any unwanted sexual activity or coercion within a dating relationship, where one person uses their power and control to manipulate or force their partner into sexual acts without consent. Examples include forced sexual acts, denial of birth control or use of contraception, pressure for sexual acts, or threatening to out someone.
How to Promote Consent in Teen Relationships
Because partner abuse often involves a violation of consent, it’s important to inform and educate the teens in your life about what consent means and why it’s so important.
Consent is a clear and enthusiastic agreement between both partners to engage in any sexual or intimate activity. It’s a voluntary and ongoing process that must be freely given, informed, and can be withdrawn at any time without consequences.
Encourage your teens to practice consent in their romantic relationships, and take the time to have open and honest conversations about what to do if their consent is violated.
Recognizing the Signs of Abuse
If you suspect a teen in your life may be the victim of abuse, keep an eye out for red flags like excessive jealousy, isolation, frequent mood swings or anger outbursts, controlling behavior, and physical signs.
By recognizing the signs, offering support, and promoting healthy relationships, we can work towards breaking the cycle of abuse and empowering teens to lead fulfilling lives free from violence. Remember, speaking out and seeking help are the first steps toward recovery.
If you or someone you know is the victim of teen dating abuse, the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline can get you the immediate, confidential help you need. Call 1-866-331-9474 or text “loveis” to 2252 to get connected, or visit https://www.loveisrespect.org/ to chat with a trained advocate.