Learning to form and nurture relationships is an essential domain of human development. Like adults, young people may struggle to establish and maintain healthy relationships. In adolescence, we need positive environments, role models, and opportunities to develop the skills we need within relationships. Without these opportunities and supports, we may become involved in harmful power inequities and intimate partner violence.
Teen dating violence includes physical, sexual, and psychological violence or aggression among current or former romantic, dating, or sexual partners [1, 2]. At times, whether we are committing or experiencing the abuse, we may not recognize it as abuse. Physical abuse is often more clear-cut than psychological, emotional, or even some types of sexual abuse. Examples of non-physical abuse include:
- Emotional (manipulation, gaslighting, blame, accusations, intimidation)
- Coercive and controlling behaviors
- Digital (monitoring social media accounts, tracking location through social media, excessive texting, etc.)
- Isolating behaviors
A 2017 meta-analysis found overall prevalence rates of 20% for physical violence between teen dating partners and 9% for sexual violence . When it comes to physical violence, male and female adolescents (age 13-18) are victimized at similar rates. Females are more likely to commit physical violence than males (25% vs. 13%) , though there is also evidence that males are more likely to perpetrate severe physical violence . Males are more likely to commit sexual violence (10% vs. 3%) and less likely to be the victims of sexual violence (8% vs. 14%) .
According to a 2019 survey of high school students who had dated in the past year, 9% of females and 7% of males experienced physical violence at the hands of a dating partner . Rates of sexual dating violence are higher for female high school students, with nearly 13% of girls and 4% of boys who dated being forced to do something sexual they did not want to do.
Rates of physical and sexual dating violence are especially high for dating youth who are unsure of their sexual identity (17% physical, 15% sexual), identify as bisexual (14% physical, 19% sexual), or identify as gay or lesbian (11% physical, 7% sexual) .
There is little research on prevalence of dating violence among teens with disabilities. However, intimate partner violence is common among young adult women with disabilities, and this pattern may start in adolescence .
Finally, adolescent mothers and expectant couples are particularly at risk for relationship violence. Among expectant couples, physical violence is often mutual .
Impact and Risk Factors
Experiencing dating violence in life as an adolescent or young adult can have long-term detrimental impacts: victims are at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior, poor sexual health, and poor mental health . Adolescent dating violence is also associated with relationship violence later in life . For both victims and perpetrators, teen dating violence is associated with depression .
Risk factors for victimization. Known risk factors for dating violence victimization in adolescence include a history of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as physical and sexual abuse and other exposures to violence [2, 6]. Early onset of puberty can make a person more vulnerable to exploitation, as can pregnancy. Youth who are involved with the child protective system or the juvenile justice system are more likely to experience intimate partner violence. Socioeconomic disadvantage and homelessness are also risk factors .
Risk factors for perpetration. A review of research studying male perpetration of dating violence identified three overarching themes: entitlement, ACEs, and ineffective conflict management . Power imbalances within relationships, belief in male superiority, and acceptance of dating abuse put young men at risk of committing relationship violence. When a young male experiences or witnesses violence or abuse in the home, school, or community, his risk of committing intimate partner violence grows, with each such experience increasing that likelihood. Young men and boys who lack conflict resolution skills may be more likely to respond to conflict with violence or abuse, especially when drinking.
Protective Factors and Prevention
Families, peers, schools, and communities can all provide the support and opportunities that help young people avoid victimization . Positive parenting, involvement with prosocial peers and activities, and school support have all been shown to be protective.
Some interventions have been shown to help prevent victimization. Programs aiming to prevent perpetration are being studied. While more research is needed, the CDC has identified promising strategies for preventing intimate partner violence across the lifespan :
- Teach safe and healthy relationship skills
- Engage influential adults and peers
- Disrupt the developmental pathways toward partner violence (through early childhood programs involving parents, for example)
- Create protective environments in schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods
- Strengthen economic supports for families
- Support survivors to increase safety and lessen harms
Fact Sheets, Background Information, and Statistics
Dating Violence Prevention
Here, youth.gov provides a wealth of information on teen dating violence, including characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships, prevalence, electronic aggression, gender considerations, prevention programs, and much more.
Why Don't They Tell? Teens and Sexual Assault Disclosure
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network outlines why adolescents often keep sexual assault experiences secret.
Dating Violence Prevention, Teens Ages 13 to 19 Years
The New York State Department of Health provides an overview and links to state and national resources.
Teaching Young People about Consent
In this article from ACT for Youth, Elizabeth Schroeder discusses the need to talk about consent with youth "early and often" and offers tips for educating children and youth on the topic.
What Consent Looks Like
In this short Q&A, RAINN outlines how consent plays out in real life.
What Consent Does -- and Doesn't -- Look Like
"Love is respect" discusses the meaning of consent, what it looks like, what it does NOT look like, and red flags.
Consent: It's Simple as Tea
This video by Blue Seat Studios, Emmeline May, and Rachel Brian illustrates the need for consent through the clear and humorous metaphor of tea.
Produced by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, this short video is especially appropriate for pre-teens and younger teens. A facilitation guide is also available.
Can I Have This Phone?
This video from CampusClarity is a useful tool to be used as part of a training or dialogue on consent.
Helping Youth Build Relationship Skills
The development of healthy relationships is part of the path to adulthood. This page from ACT for Youth connects to program activities and curricula focused on relationships. Resources for young people are also provided.
SEL Toolkit: Relationship Skills
This section of ACT for Youth's Social and Emotional Learning Toolkit links to strategies and resources that will help youth work professionals teach relationship skills.
How to Help
This comprehensive guide from "love is respect" is directed toward friends, family, and others who want to assist a person in an abusive relationship.
Trainings, Curricula, and Materials
Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan: A Technical Package of Programs, Policies, and Practices
This CDC technical package represents a select group of strategies based on the best available evidence to help communities and states sharpen their focus on prevention activities with the greatest potential to prevent intimate partner violence and its consequences across the lifespan.
Dating Matters: Understanding Teen Dating Violence Prevention
From the CDC, Dating Matters® is a free, online course available to educators, school personnel, youth mentors, and others dedicated to improving teen health. Follow a school administrator throughout his day as he highlights what teen dating violence is and how to prevent it through graphic novel scenarios, interactive exercises, and information gathered from leading experts.
Love is Not Abuse: A Teen Dating Abuse Prevention Curriculum
This comprehensive, free curriculum from "love is respect" can be used with high school students.
Teen Dating Violence: For Educators
The website for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (February) features several curricula as well as information on useful school-wide policies and practices.
Download and Request Materials
The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers materials for youth or those working with youth, including palm cards, bookmarks, posters, handouts, and quizzes.
Answer: Sexual Assault and Violence Lesson Plans
In addition to relationship skills online workshops, Answer at Rutgers offers lesson plans covering sexual assault and consent.
Reachout Resources: Power and Control Wheels
Adapted by Reachout Western NY, these graphics can be used to identify strategies of power and control within relationships.
Sunshine - Don't Confuse Love and Abuse
This hard-hitting animation from Day One NY illustrates the experience of sliding into an abusive relationship.
Resources for Youth
love is respect
A project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, "love is respect" offers 24/7 information, support, and advocacy to young people between the ages of 13 and 26 who have questions or concerns about their romantic relationships.
How Do You Know if Someone Wants to Have Sex with You?
Planned Parenthood produced this video to demonstrate what consent looks like, giving examples of ways to find out if your partner wants to do what you would like to do.
This video for middle school students is part of the AMAZE sex education video project.
Assessing Your Relationship
Do a relationship health checkup on any relationship by taking the Communication Danger Signs Quiz on this page from the ACT Youth Network.
Are We Right for Each Other?
How can you know if a person is right for you? How can you know if you should start a relationship, stay in one, or break up? Anyone can have doubts. Sometimes it's just hard to know. The ACT Youth Network provides a quiz that may help.
Understanding Warning Signs
Real Danger Signs
You might be thinking this is not the best relationship, but do you know the signs of real danger? The ACT Youth Network helps you know the warning signs.
This web page from Dating Abuse Stops Here (DASH) provides an overview of warning signs pointing to a potentially abusive relationship.
Warning Signs in Depth
DASH's early warning signs are meant to guide you in determining whether your relationship is healthy. On this page, they explore each warning sign in greater depth.
Creating a Safety Plan
Create a Safety Plan
This web page from "love is respect" offers guidance on creating a personalized safety plan for individuals experiencing abuse or in an unhealthy relationship. The page links to an Interactive Guide to Safety Planning in which you can create your own safety plan.
That's Not Cool: Need Help?
This web page from That's Not Cool includes tips for what you can do if you're being abused, if you think you're being abusive, if your friend is being abused, or if your friend is abusive. It also includes a list of additional resources for young people.
Understanding Digital Abuse
What Teens and Parents Need to Know About Digital Abuse
Written for parents, this Verywell Family article usefully describes teen digital abuse and prevention strategies.
A Thin Line
MTV's A Thin Line campaign was developed to empower you to identify, respond to, and stop the spread of digital abuse in your life and among your peers. The campaign is built on the understanding that there's a "thin line" between what may begin as a harmless joke and something that could end up having a serious impact on you or someone else.
What is Digital Abuse?
This handout from "love is respect" provides examples of digital dating abuse.
Hotlines, Helplines, and Online Chats
National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE (7233) and 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
Advocates are available 24/7 to talk or chat online confidentially with anyone experiencing domestic violence, seeking resources or information, or questioning unhealthy aspects of a relationship.
love is respect: National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline
1-866-331-9474 or text "loveis" to 22522
Highly trained peer advocates offer support, information, and advocacy to young people who have questions or concerns about their dating relationships. They can also provide information to concerned friends and family members, service providers, and members of law enforcement. Free and confidential phone, live chat, and texting services are available 24/7/365.
National Sexual Assault Hotline
Run by RAINN, this safe and confidential hotline connects callers with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in their area. RAINN offers a range of free services including judgment-free support and assistance finding local services.
LGBT National Youth Talkline
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) National Youth Talkline provides telephone, online chat, and email peer-support as well as factual information and local resources for cities and towns across the United States. All services are free and confidential. Talkline advocates speak with teens and young adults up to age 25 about coming-out issues, relationship concerns, parent issues, school problems, HIV/AIDS anxiety, safer-sex information, and much more.
|||Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Preventing teen dating violence.
|||Joppa, M. C. (2020). Dating violence in adolescence: Implications for girls' sexual health. Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, 33(4), 332-338.
|||Wincentak, K., Connolly, J., and Card, N. (2017). Teen dating violence: A meta-analytic review of prevalence rates [Abstract]. Psychology of Violence, 7(2), 224-241.
|||Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Youth Online.
|||Malhi, N., Oliffe, J. L., Bungay, V., & Kelly, M. T. (2020). Male perpetration of adolescent dating violence: A scoping review. American Journal of Men's Health, 14(5).
|||Miller, E., and Weimann, C. M. (2021, May). UpToDate: Adolescent relationship abuse including physical and sexual teen dating violence.|