Teen Dating Violence (TDV) is rarely created in a vacuum. There are many causes as to why teens engage in violent and controlling behavior in adolescence. One of the most destructive reasons is childhood trauma and likely may include one or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), including Childhood Domestic Violence (CDV).

CDV is when you grow up living in a home with domestic violence, which through the lens of childhood is violence between parents or towards a parent. It can be physical, verbal or both and is not directed towards the child.

TDV, like CDV, is an epidemic, and one that is still considerably overlooked in society. This outlook is also a root cause for why TDV is so prevalent. Greater awareness in society and making connections are critical. Then, incorporating prevention methods, it is possible to prevent future generations of teens from continuing the cycle of violence into adulthood.

The Scope and Statistics of Teenage Dating Violence

Teen dating violence can be any of one, or a combination, of the following:

  • Physical. This includes pinching, hitting, shoving, or kicking.
  • Emotional. This involves threatening a partner or harming his or her sense of self-worth. Examples include name calling, controlling/jealous behaviors, consistent monitoring, shaming, bullying (online, texting, and in person), intentionally embarrassing him/her, keeping him/her away from friends and family.
  • Sexual. This is defined as forcing a partner to engage in a sex act when he or she does not or cannot consent.

Provided by Youth.gov

TDV is a serious problem in the United States, as well as globally.  It is a type of intimate partner violence (IPV) that occurs between two young people involved in an intimate relationship. It is an epidemic that is still not understood and overlooked as a serious problem. And it has a list of statistics that show an opposing reality:

  • 1 in 3 U.S. teens will experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse from someone they’re in a relationship with before becoming adults.
  • 43% of U.S. college women report experiencing violent or abusive dating behaviors.
  • TDV affects approximately 10% of all teenagers between the ages of 12-18. This can include stalking, harassment, physical or sexual abuse.
  • 1 in 12 high school students, who took part in a CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted in 2019, experienced physical dating violence and/or sexual dating violence

The Need for greater awareness of TDV

As stated, society needs greater awareness of TDV and its causes of why it may occur. If there is a lack of awareness, or a downplaying of what TDV is and how it affects teens, there can be little to change the scope.

Teens need to have someone they can talk to about their dating experiences. If they don’t, then these teens could develop the belief that what they are experiencing is acceptable and normal. They will stop communicating or sharing what they are going through. And children that grow up with CDV, face a greater risk of developing false beliefs about their dating relationships. The ACE of CDV, in particular, encodes a false belief system that impacts all areas of someone’s life.

What may start as teasing or name-calling can lead to forms of abuse and violence. Teens without support from home or elsewhere, may never be able to break the cycle of violence that commonly continues into adulthood for many that grow up with TDV.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and their impact on a child’s perception of violence

Children who experience trauma have higher odds of becoming either a victim or perpetrator of violence in their teen years. The greater the ACEs, the greater the likelihood that violence could continue through a child’s life as they grow. CDV is a common factor as to why this would happen. Research has shown that many of those that perpetrate as teens lived in a home where violence – be it verbal, sexual or physical – existed, and perceived this violence as standard or typical.

This skewed perception of violence also leads to a bevy of behavioral and health issues, with short- and long-term consequences.

Common concerns of TDV and CDV

One of the major keys to emotional well-being throughout life is to have healthy relationships. Abusive dating relationships will cause a teen to have crippling behavioral and emotional wellbeing.

This can cause depression, substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors, juvenile delinquency, suicidal and anti-social thoughts, and other issues. CDV, which is the least known, and least understood ACE, shows grim statistics that also link to TDV and have similar consequences beyond adolescence. If teens engage in violence as victim or perpetrator, this cycle can continue as they become adults:

Developmental phase of teens

It is when you become a teenager that your identity starts to take on greater formation. You start to think beyond the adults that may be taking care of you, or not taking care of you, and form more concepts of the self. It is at this time that social relationships also expand.

It is due to the developing stages from child to adult, that teens are most vulnerable to not only what exists in the home, but what is outside. This can be the school environment, or the local community, where they may be exposed to different forms of violence from peers, or peer pressure that leads to unhealthy risky behavior taken by teens.

How CDV and TDV connect in Adolescence

And for many teens, these factors, alongside CDV, create the by-product of TDV. Research finds that teens that lived with intimate partner violence in the home are more likely to accept violence. In turn, they will use it to resolve conflict in their own relationships. Even if a teen was not directly involved with the violence, simply growing up in the shadow of CDV, increases the odds of continuing the cycle of violence in their own relationships.

Teens are in a tight spot that grew up with childhood trauma and faced ACEs such as CDV. It is at this period in their lives that due to the developmental stages in adolescence, the cycle of violence can be formed more permanently. It can also set the stage in their lives that TDV and aggressive behaviors continue past adolescence.

Prevention of Teen Dating Violence must start before children hit their teen years

The first and foremost prevention is to create greater awareness of what TDV is and its impact on teens. This must be within the community itself, and the school system, to then have an effect on families.

Any intervention must be early on, well before the teenage years. The intervention initially is having programs in place that focus on the issues and definitions within TDV so that children can understand what they may face later.

Children that grow up in homes and experience CDV are most at risk to then face TDV as either the victim or perpetrator.  And it is known that ‘witnessing’ the violence amongst adults is as damaging to the mind and body as being the receiver of any form of violence.

Prevention of TDV from caring adults in the community

Programs such as the STOP Intimate Partner Violence, of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, provides support for screening potential intimate partner violence in the home to healthcare providers. It is a way to help prevention start early on and one family at a time. It can aid children before adolescence and could prevent continuing forms of violence including TDV.

When a child grows up with CDV, they may not have any support system in place to talk about their dating relationships as teenagers. Someone can step in and help these young people learn what positive and healthy relationships are and the signs that they may be involved with an abusive relationship.

If the home cannot provide this support, the school system could be a bulwark for decreasing CDV and IPV for these at-risk children. With new curriculum, a school system could help bring TDV to light, as well as address the false perception of violence that these children face at home.

According to CHOP research, 50% of teens who experience physical abuse from a dating partner are on school grounds. This shows that the school system is pivotal in addressing this massive issue. CDC conducted research in Pennsylvania that shows implementing TDV prevention into the curriculum is effective at deterring behaviors related to IPV, thus having a positive impact on TDV and CDV.

CDC suggests the following:

  • Have a policy on dating violence
  • Train school faculty on dating violence
  • Educate students in grades 7-12 about dating violence
  • Partner with local domestic violence and rape crisis programs to develop materials, resources, and responses that are best suited to the unique needs of teen victims.

Being the ONE for a child that is growing up with CDV and at risk of TDV

CHOP provides some helpful ideas on how a responsible adult at home or outside of the home can provide support. CDVA also offers the Change A Life program. It is affective in giving support and techniques to help a child build resiliency and a healthier outlook towards what they are facing at home. Endorsed by UNICEF and Children’s Mercy Hospitals, it is a free evidence-based online program. It teaches a caring adult how to step in and the ONE for a child growing up with CDV or other ACEs.

Teen Dating Violence is an issue that has repercussions impacting the next generation of adults. Its impact runs deep throughout society. And while it is still more overlooked an issue than it should be, more attention is being brought to light. It can be all year but especially during Teen Violence Dating Month every February.

Awareness and making links is critical to preventing TDV

Prevention must begin with awareness and changing the perception of violence for teenagers. There are solutions. Some of them can be done by one person and some solutions need to be done as a whole. A community, school system, or health care provider/professional can be a great help. Collaboration with other organizations in the community can also help address the concerns of TDV.

By making the connections of ACEs, IPV in the home and CDV, it is more likely and effective within society to prevent Teen Dating Violence. This can ensure that youth will break the cycle of violence. They can become adults that live lives filled with healthy intimate relationships.