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Dating Violence: How to Protect Yourself or Your Teen

Let’s be honest, no relationship is “perfect.” Every relationship is complex and may have its ups and downs. Some are healthy, some are not, and some are downright dangerous. 

One thing is clear when it comes to romantic relationships: Love should never hurt.

How do you know if the relationship you are currently in is a healthy one? What do you do if your partner makes you feel unsafe in your relationship? 

Unfortunately, you or someone you know will experience intimate partner violence, domestic abuse or dating violence at some point in your lifetime. Teens are particularly vulnerable to dating violence and may even experience domestic violence at home. 

Dating abuse is something all adults and all parents who care about young people should know how to spot. Read on to learn more about dating violence, its signs and advice on how to protect yourself and a loved one.

What is dating violence?

“Dating violence is any type of behavior within an intimate relationship that causes someone physical, psychological or sexual harm,” said Adeola Adelayo, MD, a practicing psychiatrist with Banner Health in Scottsdale, AZ. “Dating violence doesn’t have an age restriction or is limited to one gender identity.” 

It’s estimated that 20 people per minute (that’s 10 million men and women a year!) are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S. 

Dating violence isn’t something we often think happens to teens and young adults. Unfortunately, it’s more common than you might think. Roughly 1 in 12 high school students experiences dating violence before the age of 18. 

The line between a healthy versus unhealthy relationship can be blurry and confusing —especially when you’re young and in love and may not know any better.

“Dating abuse is really hard to pinpoint, particularly the subtle nonverbal and psychological abuse that may not be so apparent at first,” Dr. Adelayo said. “It may be even harder for teens who don’t always understand what is happening or have the experience to know what to do.” 

Dating violence in a relationship can present in several different forms:

  • Physical: Intentional or unwanted touching of the body, like hitting, shoving or slapping, or threats of physical violence.
  • Sexual: Any action that pressures or forces a partner into engaging in sexual activity against their will or without their consent.
  • Psychological/emotional: Verbal or manipulative behavior, be it threats, intimidation, humiliation or isolation, used against you to control you. 
  • Financial: Using money to hold power over a partner, whether that be forbidding or preventing a partner to work, not allowing a partner to spend money or owing something in exchange for money.
  • Digital: The use of technology, such as texting and social media, to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner.

Warning signs of dating abuse

“At the heart of dating abuse is often power and control,” Dr. Adelayo said. “Abusers dominate and control their partner and those close to them.”

For many adults, and especially teens new to dating, it can be difficult to identify controlling behaviors. Some may confuse control with caring. Oftentimes dating violence starts with small acts, but these small behaviors can often lead to more serious violence.

Although there are many signs to pay attention to in a relationship, here are some common warning signs:

  • Extreme jealousy or controlling behavior.
  • Isolates you from family and friends.
  • Invades your personal privacy, checking emails, reading texts or social media accounts.
  • Makes fun of or name-calls while together and/or in front of others.
  • Tells you what to do, who to talk to or how to look.
  • Has an explosive temper.
  • Does things to physically harm you.
  • Pressures you into sexual activity.
  • You feel you have to be dishonest and lie.

If you have concerns about your teen, here are some additional warning signs to watch out for:

  • Your child suddenly loses interest in school, activities or once close friendships.
  • Spends a great deal of time with the person they are dating.
  • Your child has visible marks or bruises or takes efforts to cover them up.
  • Your child begins lying to you and others about where they are, who they are with and what they are doing.

What parents can do

Studies have shown that teen dating violence victims are at greater risk in adulthood for more serious abuse in later relationships, heavy drinking, drug use, depression, eating disorders and suicide

As a parent, you can play a role in helping your teen avoid abusive relationships in the future. 

Here are three things to consider:

Talk about healthy relationships

“One of the first things you can do is sit down and talk to your child before they start dating,” Dr. Adelayo said. “Talk to them about what healthy relationships look like and what all good relationships should have, such as honesty, trust, and respect.”

Talk openly and honestly about sex and the difference between consent and coercion. Research shows teens who report talking about sex with their parents are more likely to delay having sex.

Model healthy relationships 

Modeling respectful, healthy relationships at home and in your life, whether you’re married, divorced or single, can show your teen what it means to be in a healthy relationship.

Recognize signs of an unhealthy relationship

If your teen is showing signs of dating abuse, talk to them and let them know you are there to help. Use open-ended questions to find out what is on their mind.

“Many teens who experience dating violence won’t tell anyone,” Dr. Adelayo said. “Many keep quiet out of embarrassment or fear that people in their lives won’t understand.”

If your teen doesn’t want to talk to you, suggest other trusted individuals they can talk with, such as a teacher, guidance counselor, coach or relative.

How to get help

If you find you’re in an unsafe relationship, or you want help for someone who is, you aren’t alone. There’s help available. 


The National Dating Abuse Hotline:  1-866-331-9474
The National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)
Both hotlines have representatives available 24/7 both in English and Spanish.

To connect you or a loved one with a behavioral health specialist call Banner Behavioral Health at 1-800-254-4357. 

If you’re in immediate danger, call 911

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