Like adult domestic violence, teen dating violence is a pattern of controlling behavior, in which one partner attempts to assert their power through physical, emotional, verbal, psychological, and sexual abuse. This will often be coupled by instances of jealousy, coercion, manipulation, possessiveness and an overall threatening demeanor, many times increasing in severity as the relationship continues. Dating violence can affect people from all socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, and occurs in heterosexual, gay, and lesbian relationships.
When assessing whether one’s partner is potentially abusive, some early signs to watch out for include: extreme jealousy and controlling behavior; explosive anger; isolating the partner from family and friends; tendency to blame others; and becomes verbally or mentally abusive.
It is also a common belief amongst teens that physical violence is the only type of abuse in a dating relationship. And while physical abuse can leave behind evidence such as cuts, bruises, broken bones, and more, it is important to remember that emotional, verbal and psychological abuse can be just as damaging, if not more. That’s because as the abuse continues, the victim begins to believe that they are at fault and are deserving of the abuse perpetrated upon them. Therefore, it is imperative for teens to remember that abuse is a cycle, and will usually escalate as the relationship continues.
In teenage dating relationships, there may be preconceived notions of gender roles. For example, very often young men are taught that they need to be in control of their partner; to “wear the pants” in the relationship. This may sometimes play out through a heightened state of aggression and possessiveness. At the same time, however, they’re lacking in support and empathy for their partner, as it may be perceived as a sign of weakness.
On the other hand, young women may believe that jealousy and possessiveness are signs of love or romance, and may therefore seek out partners with controlling tendencies. They may feel responsible for “fixing” their partners, and choose to stay in a relationship that is unhealthy or even abusive.
One of the most common aspects of teen dating violence that distinguishes it from adult domestic violence is the occurrence of isolation. In teenage relationships, teens will often have grandiose ideas about love and romance, being less experienced than adults. As the relationship grows, they choose to spend the majority of time with their partner, becoming more and more isolated from others in their life. And while this is not abusive in and of itself, it may become problematic as the relationship continues. Especially with abusive relationships, the isolation escalates to include every other aspect of life, including friends, family, hobbies, work, school, etc., until they are essentially cut off from anyone other than their dating partner.
Abuse in a dating relationship can be confusing and frightening at any age. But for teenagers, who are just beginning to date and develop romantic relationships, this abuse can be especially difficult. Therefore, when offering help to a teenage victim, it is important that they view you as an ally, someone they can trust and turn to when seeking support. Although there will be feelings of frustration if the teen chooses to stay with his/her abusive partner, remember to remain understanding and sympathetic of their situation, as you may be the one person they still trust.
Please also visit our Teen Alert Program website for more information.