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Teens in Abusive Dating Relationships

Teen Dating Violence

There is a lot of pressure on teens to have a boyfriend or girlfriend in order to fit in. Often teens have a little or no knowledge of healthy versus unhealthy dating relationships. This is especially true if they were raised in a family where they witnessed one parent abuse the other. 

Most women in long-term abusive relationships identify that there were signs and symptoms of abusive behaviour when they were dating their partner. They express regret that they did not help or leave the relationship before things "got worse" and children were born. Therefore, it is important that at an early age, teens are aware, recognize and understand the seriousness of dating violence. 


Information adapted from Envision Counseling Center

Dating abuse is a pattern of destructive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner. While we define dating violence as a pattern, that does not mean the first instance of abuse is not dating violence. It just recognizes that dating violence usually involves a series of abusive behaviors over a course of time.

Warning Signs of Abuse

Because relationships exist on a spectrum, it can be hard to tell when a behavior crosses the line from healthy to unhealthy or even abusive. Use these warning signs of abuse to see if your relationship is going in the wrong direction:

·       checking your cell phone or email without your permission,

·       constantly putting you down,

·       extreme jealousy or insecurity

·       explosive temper,

·       isolating you from family or friends,

·       making false accusations,

·       mood swings,

·       physically hurting you in any way,

·       possessiveness,

·       telling you what to do,

·       pressuring or forcing you to have sex.

Check out where your relationship falls on the spectrum .


The Teen Power and Control Wheel is a tool that helps explain the different ways an abusive partner can use power and control to manipulate a relationship. See the descriptions of each spoke of the wheel, listed below, to learn more about one of the forms of abuse, including examples and red flags.

Adapted from the Domestic Abuse Intervention in Duluth, Minnesota



• Controlling what another does, who he/she sees, and talks to, what he/she reads, where he/she goes.

• Limiting outside involvement.

• Using jealousy to justify actions.


Peer Pressure

• Threatening to expose someone’s weakness or spread rumors.

• Telling malicious lies about an individual to peer group.


Anger/Emotional Abuse

• Putting him/her down.

• Making him/her feel badly about him or herself.

• Name calling.

• Making him/her think he/she’s crazy.

• Playing mind games.

• Humiliating him/her.

• Making him/her feel guilty.


Using Social Status

• Treating her like a servant.

• Making all the decisions.

• Acting like the “master of the castle.”

• Being the one to define men’s and women’s roles.



• Making someone afraid by using looks, actions, gestures.

• Smashing things.

• Destroying property.

• Abusing pets.

• Displaying weapons.



• Making light of the abuse and not taking concerns about it seriously.

• Saying the abuse didn’t happen.

• Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior.

• Saying he/she caused it.



• Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt another.

• Threatening to leave, to commit suicide, to report him/her to the police.

• Making him/her drop charges.

• Making him/her do illegal things.


Sexual Coercion

• Manipulating or making threats to get sex.

• Getting her pregnant.

• Threatening to take the children away.

• Getting someone drunk or drugged to have sex.


Information adapted from Teen Dating Violence

Statistics and Facts

  • 1 in 10 teens are affected by dating violence. 

  • 1/3 of young adults between the ages of 16-24 have reported being involved in at least one abusive dating situation.

  • 95% of all people who are the victims in an abusive relationship are women. 

  • Date rape accounts for 60% of all rapes.

  • More than 70% of pregnant teens and young mothers are in abusive relationships.

  • Dating violence increases in severity the longer the relationship continues. 

  • There is increased danger for the victim when trying to terminate the relationship without intervention and assistance from professionals. 

Healthy Relationships

Communication is a key part to building a healthy relationship. The first step is making sure you both want and expect the same things—being on the same page is very important. The following tips can help you create and maintain a healthy relationship:

  • Speak Up. In a healthy relationship, if something is bothering you, it’s best to talk about it instead of holding it in.
  • Respect Your Partner. Your partner’s wishes and feelings have value. Let your significant other know you are making an effort to keep their ideas in mind. Mutual respect is essential in maintaining healthy relationships.
  • Compromise. Disagreements are a natural part of healthy relationships, but it’s important that you find a way to compromise if you disagree on something. Try to solve conflicts in a fair and rational way.
  • Be Supportive. Offer reassurance and encouragement to your partner. Also, let your partner know when you need their support. Healthy relationships are about building each other up, not putting each other down.
  • Respect Each Other’s Privacy. Just because you’re in a relationship, doesn’t mean you have to share everything and constantly be together. Healthy relationships require space.

For Parents

Could this be your teenager?

- Does your teenager come home with unexplained injuries?

- Do you see signs that your teenager is afraid of their partner? 

- Does the partner check up on your teenager?

- Does the partner lash out, call names or talk cruelly to or about your teenager?

- Does your teenager seem to be giving up things that were once important?

- Has your teenager lost interest in school, friends, time with family, activities? 

- Does your teenager apologize for the partner's behaviour to you and others?

- Have you seen the partner be abusive or display aggressive behaviours towards other people, property &/or pets?

- Has your teenager's appearance &/or behaviour changed? 

If you have answered "yes" to two or more of the above questions, your teenager may be in an abusive dating relationship. While some types of abuse or assault are more dangerous than others, all should be taken seriously. 


What to Do If Your Teenager Is a Victim of Teen Dating Violence

Become Informed - It is important in order to support your teen that you are well informed of the dynamics of dating violence. 

Ask About the Relationship - Similar to any type of abuse, often the victim is hoping that someone will help them. As a parent the question has to be asked before help can be made available. 

Believe Them - Some people won't believe him/her, for various reasons. Let them know that you do.

Don't Blame Them - It is difficult for a teen to come forward for fear of being blamed. Put his/her favourite feelings above your need to be right, and avoid saying, "I told you so." Remind them that it is not their fault. It may take time for your teen to believe that you will support them. 

Be Supportive - Be supportive, listen and let them talk when they need to. Maintain open and respectful communication. There are many things going through their minds, and it will take time to sort things out. Be a friend first, and a parent second. 

Let Them Make Choices - Don't force any decisions on him/her. Someone took control away from them and they need to learn to make their own decisions again. Give your teen time. Do not pressure them to do what you want opposed to what they want. 

Seek Professional Help for your Teen and Yourself - Having a teen in an abusive relationship is difficult for everyone involved. Find counselors or agencies who specialize in the area of dating violence and can support you, your family and your teen. 


Preventing Dating Violence and Encouraging Healthy Relationships

1. Help Your Teen Become Aware of the Issues Involved in Teen Dating.

Encourage him/her to evaluate the safety of various situations. Brainstorm all possible ways of handling a situation, using events from a newspaper, the experience of a friend, television or movies. Help teens develop self-awareness by encouraging them to think, choose and make decisions for themselves.

2. Teach Your Teen To Be Assertive.

Assertiveness is the ability to exercise one's rights while respecting the rights of others. It means communicating exactly what you want and don't want, standing up for yourself, and stating your opinions, thoughts and feelings without abusing others. Help your teen learn the difference between passive, assertive and aggressive behaviour. An assertiveness course can develop assertiveness skills. Ask your teen "Have you ever said yes when you wanted to say no?" Practice what you could say or do if given another chance. 

3. Role-Model Conflict Resolution in the Home.

Productive confrontation involves honest communication, willingness to listen to others, comprise and problem-solving. When parents provide models of effective interpersonal interactions, they are teaching violence prevention skills. 

4. Challenge the Attitudes and Images that Create a Tolerance for Violence in Intimate Relationships.

Help your teen critique what they see in the media. You can repeatedly reinforce that no one deserves to be emotionally, verbally or physically abused, and that violence is never justified. You may find you have to confront some of your own values and attitudes. 

5. Help your Teen Identify and Define Healthy Relationships 

Point out features of healthy relationships from books, movies or real life. Emphasize the following characteristics of healthy relationships. Both partners:

  • give and take, each getting their way some of the time and compromising some of the time,

  • respect each other, and value one anothers' opinions,

  • support and encourage one anothers' goals and ambitions,

  • trust one another, and learn not to inflict jealous and restrictive feelings on the other if they should arise,

  • communicate openly and honestly, and make their partners feel safe in expressing their feelings and needs,

  • share responsibility in decision-making,

  • accept the differences between them,

  • encourage each other to have friends and activities outside the relationship.


Information adapted from  Envision Counseling Center

Click here to access resources from SASS website.

Click here to access downloadable resources from LoveRespect.org.