Teen Dating Violence: What Parents Need to Know - Handel Behavioral Health
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Teen Dating Violence: What Parents Need to Know

April 17, 2024

Amy Mauro

Your 16 year old son is in his first relationship, and he and his new girlfriend are spending all of their time together. You figure it’s just a high school relationship, they’ll figure out what is a healthy amount of time together and have their own separate lives. 

One month into the relationship, and your son’s girlfriend has made him block all of his girl friends from school on social media. By springtime, you notice that he’s stopped hanging out with his friends. He’s dressing differently and obsessing over what he eats. 

When you finally get your son’s best friend to come over, you overhear him talking to your son about how “controlling” his girlfriend is, and how he can’t stand to see him down and depressed at school. 

No parent suspects that teen dating violence (TDV) affects their child. Yet data from the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2021 indicate that among U.S. high school students who reported dating during the 12 months before the survey, 

  • About 1 in 12 students experience physical dating violence 
  • About 1 in 12 students experience sexual dating violence 

Dating violence can happen to anyone, it doesn’t matter if your teen plays varsity soccer or excels at chess. 

“When someone is in an abusive relationship, they might not understand what’s happening or have the experience to know what to do,” says Kaitlin Corson, LMHC. “Healthy relationships start with awareness and communication.”

We spoke with Kaitlin Corson, LMHC to learn more about teen dating violence, including the warning signs and risk factors for unhealthy or abusive relationships, and how to start a conversation with your teen about their relationship.

If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

What is teen dating violence?

“Many people assume that teenagers are too young to be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship,” says Kaitlin. 

In reality, teen dating violence affects millions of youth in the U.S. 

It can takes different forms, including physical and sexual violence, psychological aggression, and stalking by current or past romantic partners. It can also take place online, or through other forms of technology.

What are the warning signs of abusive or unhealthy relationships?

“A big warning sign to look out for in teen dating is excessive and constant communication. It’s not healthy when your teen is getting bombarded with text messages and expected to respond right away, especially if they’re busy with friends or family,” says Kaitlin. 

“It’s also important to look out for sudden changes in their behaviors outside of the relationship. If their grades are getting worse, if they’re not spending time with their friends, if they’ve stopped participating in activities they normally enjoy because they’re spending all their time with their partner, they may be in an unhealthy relationship,” says Kaitlin. 

Other warning signs of teen dating violence can include:

  • Getting very serious very quickly (going from 0-100 in a very short period of time) 
  • Constant and obsessive jealousy (always questioning the other partner’s whereabouts and who they’re spending time with)
  • Controlling their social media usage and behavior (telling them to block certain people, forcing them to share their passcodes, reading their messages or checking their browser history)
  • Personal insults, name calling, put downs, degradation, lack of respect
  • Unrealistic expectations about what someone should do and how much time they should spend together
  • Controlling what someone wears, how someone dresses 
  • Controlling how much someone eats  
  • One individual has more power and control in the relationship
  • Drastic changes in the tone of relationships (constant talking and then “ghosting”)
  • Force or coercion to do things that one person does not feel comfortable with (often times this comes in the form of sexual pressure)
  • Tracking or stalking via GPS or other technological means
  • Violence toward others or other things (hitting walls, getting into physical fights outside of the relationship)
  • Threats of abuse (physical or verbal) 
  • Fear of partner
  • Physical abuse
  • Grabbing and physically blocking someone’s movements

“As with many adult intimate relationships, teens who experience abuse are less likely to tell someone. They might feel afraid to tell their loved ones because they know they need to act on the red flags. They might think that they’ve invested too much into their relationship to end it, or they might fear their partner will threaten them with more abuse if they leave,” says Kaitlin. 

How to support your teen when they’re in an unhealthy and/or abusive relationship?

Normalize the conversation about relationships:

“I think one of the best things adults can do when talking to their teen about their relationship is to remove any pressure from the conversation,” says Kaitlin.

“Start the conversation with general and open-ended questions, such as, 

‘How is your relationship going? What are your friends’ relationships like? What are some things you and your partner like doing together?’”

You might even share stories about your previous relationships or use a story in the news or from a movie to ease into the conversation about how relationships are portrayed in the media. You can share with your teen what an unhealthy relationship looks like, and they might pick up on the red flags in their own relationship.

“It’s more successful to approach the conversation from a general perspective, rather than pressing your teen for information,” says Kaitlin.

Remind your teen that it’s not their fault:

Those in intimate dating relationships often feel embarrassed to admit that they’re in an unhealthy or dysfunctional relationship. They might feel ashamed of themselves for not recognizing the red flags sooner.

“Always remind your teen that it is not their fault and that there is nothing wrong with them,” says Kaitlin. “It’s very common for people to get involved in unhealthy relationships and the red flags are not always recognizable.”

Model healthy relationships at home:

“Teen dating violence can be prevented by modeling healthy relationships at home,” says Kaitlin. 

Examine how boundaries are treated in your home. Look into how family members express emotions and how conflict is handled. 

“A healthy relationship looks like supporting each other and meeting each other in the middle. It looks like giving positive feedback and positive reinforcement, not blaming one person or calling each other names. It means being able to take time apart without blowing up each other’s phones or worrying about the other person’s whereabouts. It looks like accepting yourself and your partner for who you both are. It means making necessary changes together,” says Kaitlin.

Believe what your teen is telling you:

“The most important thing anyone can do when supporting their loved one is to believe what they tell you,” says Kaitlin. “Don’t question or doubt your teen if they’re telling you that they’re experiencing abuse of any kind.”

Reach out for professional support:

“It’s important not to panic if your teen shares something about their dating partner that is threatening or harmful,” says Kaitlin. 

If you suspect or know that abuse is taking place, get professional help immediately. There are advocacy groups and hotline agencies for domestic abuse in every state. You can contact your local Safe Space Program to talk to someone who can protect you. 

You can also call, text, or chat online with advocates at Love Is Respect who can help:

  • Call: 1.866.331.9474
  • Text: Loveis to 22522
  • Chat online: Visit www.loveisrespect.org and click “Chat Online Now”

To find help for teen dating violence in Massachusetts you can visit,

Counseling for victims of teen dating violence:

If you’re a teen in an abusive, violent, or unhealthy relationship, seek help from a mental health professional. If you’re the parent or guardian of a teen whom you suspect or know is in an unhealthy relationship, help them get the support they need.

Our professional therapists at Handel Behavioral Health are here to educate youth and their loved one’s on what healthy relationships look like, and support your teen through the recovery process. 

To start working with one of our counselors online or in our offices in Amherst, West Springfield, Franklin, Natick, or Wilbraham, contact us today at (413) 343-4357.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.

Kaitlin Corson Headshot

Kaitlin received her Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Boston University School of Medicine. Kaitlin has experience working with individuals who have a wide variety of identities, cultures and diagnoses, including working with criminal justice involved individuals. Her experience includes providing individual therapy, group therapy and crisis intervention in acute settings. More About Author →