Life Skills - Risks of Adolescent Dating



Adolescents are especially sensitive to rejection. Feeling left out by peers can be devastating. When a social activity is planned, and someone is excluded, that person may question and reexamine their self-worth. It's important to encourage adolescents to share these feelings with trusted adults.

Sex-Role Stereotyping

Most adolescents obtained information about masculinity and femininity almost entirely from their family. Most adolescents tend to model the examples set for them. Some adolescents learned sex-role stereotyping that might become part of their dating relationship. Some of these sterotypes could be harmful. For example, "Boys need to be aggressive" or "girls need to be complacent". Again, please discuss these issues with a trusted adult.

What are the consequences of dating violence?

As teens develop emotionally, they are heavily influenced by their relationship experiences. Healthy relationship behaviors can have a positive effect on a teen’s emotional development. Unhealthy, abusive or violent relationships can cause short term and long term negative effects, or consequences to the developing teen. Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to do poorly in school, and report binge drinking, suicide attempts, and physical fighting. Victims may also carry the patterns of violence into future relationships.

Why Does Dating Violence Happen?

Teens laughingCommunicating with your partner, managing uncomfortable emotions like anger and jealousy, and treating others with respect are a few ways to keep relationships healthy and non-violent. Teens receive messages about how to behave in relationships from peers, adults in their lives, and the media. All too often these examples suggest violence in a relationship is okay. Violence is never acceptable. But there are reasons why it happens.

Violence is related to certain risk factors. Risks of having unhealthy relationships increase for teens who:

Dating violence can be prevented when teens, families, organizations, and communities work together to implement effective prevention strategies.

The following resources provide more information on teen dating violence.

Characteristics of Healthy & Unhealthy Relationships

Respect for both oneself and others is a key characteristic of healthy relationships. In contrast, in unhealthy relationships, one partner tries to exert control and power over the other physically, sexually, and/or emotionally.

It is important to educate youth about the value of respect and the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships before they start to date. Youth may not be equipped with the necessary skills to develop and maintain healthy relationships, and may not know how to break up in an appropriate way when necessary. Maintaining open lines of communication may help them form healthy relationships and recognize the signs of unhealthy relationships, thus preventing the violence before it starts.

Unhealthy relationships are marked by characteristics such as disrespect and control. It is important for youth to be able to recognize signs of unhealthy relationships before they escalate. Some characteristics of unhealthy relationships include:

Legal Responses to Teen Dating Violence

Not only do more teens than adults keep dating violence a secret, the majority of teen victims never obtain mental health services, seek protection in shelters, or pursue legal help, such as cases against abusers and protection orders.1

Access issues contribute to the lower rate of pursuing legal recourse among teens. Such barriers include requirements related to age (e.g., protective orders are not available for minors), relationship status (e.g., limiting the definition of domestic abuse to abuse between partners who are married, cohabitate, or have children together), and parental consent (e.g., not allowing access to those teens who will not or cannot tell their parents about the abuse).2 For a description of state legal responses to teen dating violence, go to the nonprofit group Break the Cycle’s 2010 State Law Report Cards: A National Survey of Teen Dating Violence Laws

Teen Dating Violence and Gender

Both boys and girls experience and perpetrate teen dating violence; often teens report that both partners committed aggressive acts during the relationship.1 Studies focused on the rates of teen dating violence by gender have had inconsistent results. While some studies have found girls to be victims of teen dating violence at higher rates than boys,2 others have found similar rates of aggression/victimization between boys and girls.3 According to the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey System data the prevalence of dating violence victimization, defined as being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend during the 12 months before the survey, was higher among 11th-grade males than 11th-grade females.4

While findings of teen dating violence rates based on gender remain inconsistent, research suggests that girls seem to suffer disproportionately from severe violence in relationships (i.e., physical and sexual assault).5 For example, studies have found that adolescent girls are more likely than boys to be seriously injured or suffer sexual abuse as a result of dating violence.6 Additionally, data from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV) conducted in 2008 found that girls seemed to be more afraid of teen dating violence victimization compared to other types of victimization than boys; in a list of 43 types of victimization, girls ranked teen dating violence 13th while boys ranked it 42nd.7

Recent research has also found a relationship between intimate partner violence and reproductive coercion. A study of women ages 16 to 29 seeking care in five family planning clinics in Northern California found that of 16- to 20-year-old women (42.6 percent of the total sample) over half reported that they had experienced partner violence, 18 percent reported pregnancy coercion, and 12 percent reported birth control sabotage. These findings suggest an overlap in reports of partner violence, pregnancy coercion, and birth control sabotage and find a connection between these behaviors and unplanned pregnancies.8

Research also suggests that girls and boys have different motivations for aggressive acts against their partners.9 In reviewing research on teen dating violence, Mulford and Giordano found that

Further research suggests that boys rarely reported physical harm and were more likely to laugh off aggressive acts by their partner,11 while girls reported serious harm and physical injury and tended to suffer long-term negative consequences such as suicide attempts, depression, and substance use. 12

Rates of violence and abuse are similar for teens in same-sex relationships, according to data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Almost a quarter of youth between the ages of 12 and 21 years in same-sex romantic or sexual relationships reported some type of partner violence victimization in the previous eighteen months, and a tenth reported experiencing physical violence by a dating partner. Findings showed that females were more likely to report victimization than males.13

1 Mulford & Giordano, 2008
2 Wolitzky-Taylor et al., 2008; Marquart, Edwards, Stanley, & Wayman, 2007
3 O’Leary, Slep, Avery-Leaf, & Cascardi, 2008
4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010
5 Swahn, Simon, Arias, & Bossarte, 2008; Molider & Tolman, 1998
6 Halpern, Young, Waller, Martin, & Kupper, 2001; Molider & Tolman, 1998
7 Office of Justice Programs, 2011
8 Miller et al., 2011
9 Mulford & Giordano, 2008
10 Mulford & Giordano, 2008
11 Molider & Tolman, 1998
12 Ackard, Eisenberg, & Neumark-Sztainer 2007; Molider & Tolman, 1998; Olshen, McVeigh, Wunsch-Hitzig, & Rickert, 2007
13 Halpern, Young, Waller, Martin, & Kupper, 2004


Healthy relationships consist of trust, honesty, respect, equality, and compromise.1 Unfortunately, teen dating violence—the type of intimate partner violence that occurs between two young people who are, or who were once in, an intimate relationship—is a serious problem in the United States. A national survey found that ten percent of teens, female and male, had been the victims of physical dating violence within the past year2 and approximately 29 percent of adolescents reported being verbally or psychologically abused within the previous year.3
Teen dating violence can be any one, or a combination, of the following:

It can negatively influence the development of healthy sexuality, intimacy, and identity as youth grow into adulthood4 and can increase the risk of physical injury, poor academic performance, binge drinking, suicide attempts, unhealthy sexual behaviors, substance abuse, negative body image and self-esteem, and violence in future relationships.5

Teen dating violence can be prevented, especially when there is a focus on reducing risk factors as well as fostering protective factors, and when teens are empowered through family, friends, and others (including role models such as teachers, coaches, mentors, and youth group leaders) to lead healthy lives and establish healthy relationships. It is important to create spaces, such as school communities, where the behavioral norms are not tolerant of abuse in dating relationships. The message must be clear that treating people in abusive ways will not be accepted, and policies must enforce this message to keep students safe.