Intimate partner violence in teens: What is it, and what can you do?
11/23/2020 by Marcie Billings, M.D.
Intimate partner violence in teens ― or teen dating violence ― is a common adolescent health problem associated with poor health and social outcomes, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Intimate partner violence in teens, which involves physical, emotional or sexual abuse in a relationship, affects millions of teens in the U.S. each year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Nearly 1 in 11 female teens and 1 in 15 male teens reported experiencing physical dating violence in the past year.
- About 1 in 9 female high school students and 1 in 36 male high school students reported experiencing sexual dating violence in the past year.
- Twenty-six percent of women and 15% of men report experiencing intimate partner violence for the first time before 18.
The CDC says that sexual minority groups are disproportionately affected by all forms of violence, and some racial or ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by many types of violence.
Teen dating violence, which could occur in person or electronically, can include:
- Physical injury.
- Forced sexual contact.
- Reproductive coercion, which is pressuring a partner to become pregnant or manipulating birth control attempts.
- Controlling partner behaviors, such as demanding constant access to their partner; frequently checking the partner's text messages, social media sites and cellphone; as well as texting or posting sexual pictures of their partner online.
Recognizing healthy and unhealthy relationships
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, signs of a healthy relationship include:
- Being respectful of each other.
- Knowing that you make each other better people.
- Sharing common interests, but also having outside activities and friends.
- Settling disagreements peacefully and with respect.
According to the 2016 article, "Youth Violence and Intervention in Clinical and Community-based Settings," some signs that a relationship is unhealthy include:
- Explosive anger.
- Putting down a partner.
- Isolating a significant other from friends and family.
- Making false accusations.
- Being possessive or controlling.
- Pressuring a partner to do things against his or her will.
- Manipulating birth control.
- Looking through a partner's cellphone.
- Calling a partner names.
- Swearing or screaming at a partner.
Health effects of teen dating violence
Teen dating violence significantly affects adolescent health. It's associated with unintended teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, injuries, substance use, anti-social behaviors, and poor mental health and thoughts of suicide. Teen dating violence also sets the stage for future relationship problems and the potential for being a victim or perpetrator of subsequent intimate partner violence.
What parents can do
Parents play an important role in promoting healthy relationships from an early age, recognizing teen dating violence among children and their peers, and supporting teens as they navigate their early relationships. Here are some things to consider:
- Talk to your teens about healthy relationships.
See the American Academy of Pediatrics' website, healthychildren.org, which provides information on dating and sex, or youth.gov, which provides information on how to prevent dating violence.
- Role-model healthy relationships.
Show your children what it means to be in a healthy relationship. This includes demonstrating loving and peaceful conflict resolution with friends and partners.
- Recognize signs of an unhealthy relationship.
If your teen shows signs that he or she may be in an abusive or violent relationship, talk to him or her about it and get help. Your health care providers can connect you and your teen with resources for developing more positive relationships and getting out of relationships that are potentially dangerous.
- Empower your teen to intervene.
Encourage all teenagers to be "positive upstanders" when they see peers who are displaying disrespectful, harmful or violent behaviors. Becoming an upstander is about moving from silence to action. Let your teen know it is OK to speak out or take actions to stop bullying behaviors.
- Take part in community activities.
Teenagers who are involved in community groups, sports and other activities are less likely to take part in violence.
- Promote healthy use of the internet.
This includes balancing internet use with activities that don't involve the internet, as well as boundaries and communication with parents. Learn more about healthy internet use.
- Help your teen resist sexual pressure.
See the American Academy of Pediatrics article "Helping Teens Resist Sexual Pressure," which outlines strategies for parents and teens on this important topic.
What teens can do
These strategies can help teens avoid an abusive relationship:
- Respect your partner and yourself.
- Have a life, friends and family outside of your relationship.
- Resolve disagreements with your significant other with love and respect.
- Recognize healthy and unhealthy relationships.
- Stand up when you see signs of abuse.
- Know your supports in your family and community.
Sometimes seeking help can be difficult when you or a friend is in a violent or abusive relationship. If you or your friend are involved in an abusive or violent relationship, ask an adult for help. Your parents, health care provider and teachers are good places to start.
Marcie Billings, M.D., is chair of the Division Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine and a member of Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson. Her primary areas of practice and special interests are pediatric and adolescent care and medicine.