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Teen Relationship Abuse

Topic Overview

Teen dating violence is just as serious as adult domestic violence. And it's common. About 2 in 10 teen girls say they have been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner. About 1 in 10 teen boys reports abuse in dating relationships.

Teen dating abuse is a pattern of abusive behavior used to control another person. It can be:

  • Any kind of physical violence or threat of physical violence to get control.
  • Emotional or mental abuse, such as playing mind games, making you feel crazy, constantly texting you, or constantly putting you down or criticizing you.
  • Sexual abuse, including making you do anything you don't want to do, refusing to have safer sex, or making you feel bad about yourself sexually.

Who's at risk?

Like adult domestic violence, teen relationship abuse affects all types of teens, regardless of how much money your parents make, what your grades are, how you look or dress, your religion, or your race. Teen relationship abuse occurs in straight, gay, and lesbian relationships.

Relationship abuse is not just dangerous for you physically and emotionally. It can also put you at risk for other health problems, such as:

Teens in abusive relationships are also more likely to take sexual risks, do poorly in school, and use drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Girls are at higher risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Is it abuse?

Abusive relationships can have good times and bad times. Part of what makes dating violence so confusing is that there is loved mixed with the abuse. This can make it hard to tell if you are really being abused. But you deserve to be treated in a loving, respectful way by your boyfriend or girlfriend.

Does your boyfriend or girlfriend:

  • Act bossy and make all the decisions?
  • Put you down in front of friends?
  • Threaten to hurt or kill himself or herself?
  • Blame you for "making" him or her treat you badly?
  • Pressure you to have or force you to have unprotected sex?
  • Stalk you? This can include constantly texting or calling you to find out where you are and who you're with. You might think that's about caring, but it's really about controlling the relationship.

Do you:

  • Feel less confident about yourself when you're with him or her?
  • Feel scared or worried about doing or saying "the wrong thing"?
  • Find yourself changing your behavior out of fear or to avoid a fight?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you might be in an abusive relationship. There are people who can help you. You're not alone. Talk to your parents or another adult family member, a school counselor, a teacher, or someone else you trust. Call a help center or hotline to get help.

Hotlines for help

These national hotlines can help you find resources in your area.

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline toll-free: 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233), or see the website at www.ndvh.org.
  • National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline toll-free: 1-866-331-9474 or (1-866-331-8453 TTY) or see the website at www.loveisrespect.org.

How parents can help

Teens may not have the experience or maturity to know if their relationships are abusive. A teen may think of dating violence as only physical violence—pinching, slapping, hitting, or shoving. Teens may not realize that any relationship involving physical violence, sexual violence, emotional abuse, or the threat of violence is an unhealthy relationship.

For example, a teen may think his or her partner cares when he or she calls, texts, emails, or checks in all the time. But that kind of behavior is about controlling the relationship.

Talk with your teen about what makes a healthy relationship. Explain that a caring partner wouldn't do something that causes fear, lowers self-esteem, or causes injury. Let teens know that they deserve respect in all of their relationships. Think about values and messages that you want to pass on.

You might start by asking your teen:

  • Is your boyfriend or girlfriend easy to talk to when there are problems?
  • Does he or she give you space to spend time with other people?
  • Is he or she kind and supportive?

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised September 5, 2013

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