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Stop Dating Abuse Before It Starts

Seeing your teen off on a date can give you the jitters. Unfortunately, parents also must consider a particularly unnerving topic — teen dating violence.

It's worrisome, but it's not inevitable. You and your teen can avoid potentially perilous situations and reduce the risk for problems.

Abuse is defined by the National Domestic Violence Hotline as a pattern of coercive control that one person uses over another. Battering is behavior that physically harms, causes fear, or prevents a partner from doing what he or she wants to do, or forces a person to behave in ways he or she does not want. Battering also includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, and economic deprivation.

About 9% of teens report having been hit, punched, slapped, choked, or physically hurt by their partners, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So don't think, "It can't happen to my child."

Subtle beginning

The pattern often begins with criticisms and demands from one partner. A boyfriend may dictate what clothes his girlfriend should wear or tell her which friends she is permitted to see. The demands can escalate to threats and rage. Teens may not know how to respond to the threatening behavior and "mind games." Teens may think that they are to blame and that they deserve the abuse.

Teens rarely seek help. So parents should watch for warning signs.

Signs of physical abuse include:

  • Unexplained bruises

  • Sudden abandonment of friends or activities

  • Change in looks or clothing

  • Neglected schoolwork

  • Sudden hostility or secretiveness

  • Refusal to let you meet a date

Signs of emotional abuse include:

  • Depressed or withdrawn behavior

  • Use of alcohol or drugs

  • Angry or destructive behavior

Teaching the signs

Teen girls, especially those with self-esteem issues, may not always recognize abuse. Teach them. Teach boys, too, because researchers say some boys seem to feel it's OK to control girlfriends through violence.

It may be difficult for your child to talk about problems in his or her dating life. Don't become angry or pry if your child refuses to talk. Let him or her know that you care and that you want your child to be safe. If you think that your child is the abuser in a relationship, confront him or her about it. Seek professional help.

What if you think your teen may be in an abusive relationship? Offer this advice:

  • Always tell someone about the evening's plans.

  • Consider double dating when possible.

  • Have a plan for what to do if a date becomes abusive.

  • Avoid drinking and taking drugs.

  • Know and carry emergency contact information.

  • Trust his or her instincts.

Avoiding an abusive relationship is often a lot easier than getting out of one.

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