While dating violence may often be associated with adults, it also happens in relationships among adolescents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey
found that nearly 12 percent of high school students in Washington, DC, and more than 10 percent of students in the United States reported being hit, slammed into something, or injured with an object or weapon on purpose by someone they were dating in the year prior to the survey.
This survey also found that more than 9 percent of high school students in the District of Columbia and more than 10 percent of high school students in the United States experienced sexual dating violence by someone they were dating one or more times in the year prior to the survey.
We enlisted experts Allison Jackson, MD
, Division Chief, and Siobhan Copeland, Crime Services Coordinator, of the Freddie Mac Foundation Child and Adolescent Protection Center at Children’s National Health System, to weigh in on teen dating violence and what parents need to know.
What is teen dating violence?
Teen dating violence is the physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional violence within a dating relationship, as well as stalking. It can occur in person or electronically and may occur between a current or former dating partner, according to the CDC.
Typically, the rates of teen dating violence are higher in females than males, both locally and regionally. Dr. Jackson explained that traditionally rates of certain forms of victimization such as sexual abuse and rape are higher in girls than boys.
“Culturally, however, males may be less likely to disclose dating violence than females,” she said.
Dr. Jackson noted that teens are at an increased risk for suffering or committing dating violence if they’ve experienced prior traumatic experiences, such as child abuse or witnessing family violence or violence among peers. Depression and difficulty communicating within relationships also increases teens’ risk for dating violence.
The CDC states that “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.”
For a comprehensive list of risk factors, parents can visit the CDC’s webpage on teen dating violence.
Signs and symptoms of teen dating violence
According to Dr. Jackson and Copeland, parents should be aware of and watch for these signs and symptoms of dating violence in their teenagers:
Diagnosing dating violence in teens
- Isolation from loved ones and friends
- Spending excessive time with their partner
- Unexplained injuries or bruising
- Multiple physical complaints like headaches or abdominal pain
- Mood swings or depressed moods
- Sudden changes in friends, dress, or activities
Dating violence is diagnosed when the patient discloses the violent actions to their provider, noted Dr. Jackson and Copeland.
“Though youth may present to the Emergency Department with injuries resulting from dating violence, knowledge of the event resulting in injury is needed to make the diagnosis of teen dating violence,” Jackson said.
Additionally, Dr. Jackson noted that similar to victims of child abuse or adult victims of domestic violence, teens may be too fearful or ashamed to disclose their experiences with dating violence.
Healthcare providers can also routinely screen adolescents using the FISTS (Fighting, Injuries, Sex, Threats, Self-Defense) or HEADSS (Home/Environment, Education and Employment, Activities, Drugs, Sexuality, Suicide/Depression) assessments.
Treating teens for dating violence
When dating violence is identified in adolescents, the team at Children’s National treats the patient’s physical injuries, provides information on how to protect themselves, and offers mental health services to mitigate the impact of the violence.
Long-term effects of dating violence
Dr. Jackson said teens who experience dating violence may develop depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, and gynecologic and gastrointestinal complaints. Additionally, these teens can experience re-victimization at the hand of other partners throughout their lifetime.
To learn more about the services we offer and our multidisciplinary teamwork, visit Children’s National’s Child and Adolescent Protection Center page or call 202-476-4100.