As a sexual health educator in Chicago Public Schools, I carried around a question box with me to all my classes. At the end of each lesson, I would tell all the students that they could write any question imaginable they had about sexual health and place it into the box, so that the students could retain their anonymity. Before I began teaching, I thought the responses in the box would be about conventionally taboo topics such as the anatomy of genitalia, masturbation, or the intricacies of various types of sexual activity. These questions did arise, however far more, I received questions about intimate partner violence: what students should do for themselves if they were in abusive relationships or how they could best support their peers when they were in trouble. I began to see, that like many other sexual health topics, the youth at my schools had little to no experience talking to adults about dating or healthy relationships. They were unsure about which behaviors from their partners may be crossing a line, and if so what to do about it. Unfortunately,
the experiences of the students at my schools were not unique. Teen dating violence (TDV) is an adverse childhood experience that affects millions of young people in the United States. 1 in 3 young people will be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship. In fact, young people experience more dating violence than adults, specifically, girls and young women between the ages of 6 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence – nearly triple the national average.
Sadly, teen dating violence has profound impact on lifelong health, opportunity, and well-being. Teens who suffer dating abuse are subject to long-term consequences like alcoholism, eating disorders, promiscuity, thoughts of suicide, and violent behavior4. However, even though teen dating violence is so prevalent and can result in long-term harmful outcomes, many parents or family members are unaware if their teen is experiencing partner violence. Over 80% of parents have reported either not knowing if teen dating violence is a concern for their child or believe that it is not an issue. Thus, it is integral that family members or parents can notice the warning signs of their teen experiencing data violence and be able to serve as support or a resource if
violence is occurring.
There are many warning signs that can be expressed by someone experiencing dating violence.
Some possible ones include:
• Sudden changes in appearance, diet, or sleeping habits
• Failing grades or dropping out of school activities
• Sudden changes in mood or personality
• Avoiding friends and family
• Becoming secretive or withdrawn
• Apologizing and/or making excuses for the dating partner
• Constantly checking cell phone or email. Responding immediately when contacted by
dating partner. Gets upset when unable to respond.
• Unexplained bruises, scratches, or marks
If a parent believes that their teen is displaying any of these behaviors, or, in general, is
experiencing dating violence they should reach out to them. Furthermore, many of us that work with teens can play a role in helping to prevent teen dating violence by1
• Supporting comprehensive sexual health programs for youth where they learn about
• Introducing family-based programs or creating education surrounding bystander
empowerment and intervention
• Creating protective environments for teens by improving school climate and safety
• Supporting survivors by increasing access to victim centered services and offering first
responder and civil legal protections
• Encouraging teens to have open conversations with their pediatricians about healthy
behaviors and practices
Teen dating violence is a rampant and complicated topic. However, many of us can work
together and take steps towards ending teen dating violence so that youth experience better physical and emotional health both now and in the long run.
1 - “Preventing Teen Dating Violence |Violence Prevention Injury Center| CDC.” Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 5,
2- Middleearthnj. “A Few Things Every Parent Should Know about Teens and Dating.” Middle
Earth, February 15, 2016. https://middleearthnj.org/2016/02/15/a-few-things-every-parentshould-
3 - “11 Facts about Teen Dating Violence.” DoSomething.org. Accessed August 6, 2021.
4 - “Preventing Intimate Partner Violence across the Lifespan.” Accessed August 6, 2021.