Teenagers are not immune from domestic abuse and intimate partner violence (IPV). It’s a scary reality that affects kids nationwide, regardless of geographic location, economic background, race, religion, or family environment.
Adolescence is a time of self-discovery and experimentation. For many, it’s a time of first loves – and those feelings are often intense.
Unfortunately, teens often lack the skills needed to navigate these intense emotions. Sometimes, that can be a recipe for abusive or violent interactions.
How can we keep our teens safe? And what can we do if abuse is already happening?
Teens and Intimate Partner Violence: The Statistics
In a 2019 study by the CDC, 1 in 12 teens reported experiencing physical, emotional, or sexual violence by an intimate partner.
As many as 1 in 3 teenagers report experiencing verbal abuse, intimidation, or online harassment from a partner.
Those who identify as LGBTQ+ experienced IPV at increased rates compared to their cisgender/heterosexual peers.
These studies also show that parents think they are discussing healthy relationships with their kids often enough. But teens disagree, with 66% of teenage girls and 74% of boys reporting they had not talked to their parents about dating violence in the past year.
Forms of Abuse in Teenage Relationships
Teenage IPV looks similar to adult abusive relationships. The violence can be emotional, physical, or sexual.
Emotional abuse in teenage relationships could include harassing text messages or social media messages, name-calling, spreading rumors around school, attempting to control the other partner’s behaviors, or keeping the partner from spending time with family or friends.
Physical abuse isn’t always overt. It can include blatant violence, like punching, slapping, or kicking. But actions like shoving, pushing, or restraining are just as serious. Not all physical abuse leaves a mark.
Sexual violence in teenage relationships often involves coercing one partner into sex acts that they are not comfortable with, taking photos or videos without permission, sharing sexual content without permission, or manipulating birth control.
Abuse doesn’t always end when the relationship is over. Teenage relationships aren’t known to be long-lasting. But after the breakup, some teens continue to experience abuse in the form of online harassment or stalking.
How Adults Can Recognize Teenage IPV
Teenagers are notoriously tight-lipped around their parents and other caring adults. It can be difficult for parents, teachers, and other adults to identify teenage victims of abuse.
It’s also possible that your teen might not recognize the abuse themselves. Or they may know something isn’t right, but be frightened or embarrassed to tell you about it.
Observant adults can often spot when something isn’t quite right and take action. The following signs could be an indicator of violence or abuse in your child’s relationship:
- Sudden changes in sleep habits (sleeping too much, not sleeping enough, or falling asleep during the day).
- Physical symptoms with no clear cause, such as headaches, stomach issues, muscle aches, or other issues.
- Changes in behavior, such as emotional outbursts, new or worsening depression, or bouts of anger.
- New or worsening reactions to stimuli like loud noises, yelling, or slamming doors.
- Withdrawal from family, friends, and activities they usually enjoy.
- Constantly being in contact with their partner, or indications that your child’s partner is tracking their movements during the day.
- Trouble concentrating and/or changes in academic performance.
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain.
- New or unexplained bruises, scratches, or other signs of physical violence.
Read more about recognizing the signs of abuse (and addressing those concerns) in children and teens here.
Talking to Your Teen and Getting Help
When it comes to intimate partner violence, education is the best prevention. Don’t wait until your kids are in their teenage years to discuss healthy relationships. Make it part of your conversations long before they start dating.
Click here to find age-appropriate discussion starters from Futures Without Violence. You can also contact your local domestic violence prevention organization and ask for guidance.
However, despite all your best efforts, your child – or another teenager in your life – may encounter an abusive relationship. If you suspect your teenager is experiencing abuse, don’t wait to act. Parents and other trusted adults should share their concerns with their children and discuss healthy and unhealthy relationship traits. Keep the dialogue open, and let your teen know that you are there for them, no matter what.
If they won’t talk to you about the abuse, encourage them to contact another trusted adult or the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Tell them that abuse is never okay and that it’s not their fault.
Of course, if you think a teenager is in immediate danger, do not wait. Contact your local authorities for help.