Preventing Teen Dating Violence

What is teen dating violence?
teen couple kissing

Teen dating violence (TDV) is a type of intimate partner violence. It occurs between two people in a close relationship.

TDV includes four types of behavior:

  • Physical violence is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, or using another type of physical force.
  • Sexual violence is forcing or attempting to force a partner to take part in a sex act, sexual touching, or a non-physical sexual event (e.g., sexting) when the partner does not or cannot consent.
  • Psychological aggression is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally and/or exert control over another person.
  • Stalking is a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone close to the victim.

Dating violence can take place in person or electronically, such as repeated texting or posting sexual pictures of a partner online without consent. Unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime. Teens often think some behaviors, like teasing and name-calling, are a “normal” part of a relationship—but these behaviors can become abusive and develop into serious forms of violence. However, many teens do not report unhealthy behaviors because they are afraid to tell family and friends.

How big is the problem?

TDV is common. It affects millions of teens in the U.S. each year. Data from CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey indicate that:

  • Nearly 1 in 11 female and approximately 1 in 15 male high school students report having experienced physical dating violence in the last year.
  • About 1 in 9 female and 1 in 36 male high school students report having experienced sexual dating violence in the last year.
  • 26% of women and 15% of men who were victims of contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime first experienced these or other forms of violence by that partner before age 18.
  • The burden of TDV is not shared equally across all groups—sexual minority groups are disproportionately affected by all forms of violence, and some racial/ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by many types of violence.
Nearly 1 in 11 female and approximately 1 in 15 male high school students report having experienced physical dating violence in the last year.2 About 1 in 9 female and 1 in 36 male high school students report having experienced sexual dating violence in the last year.2 26% of women and 15% of men who were victims of contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime first experienced these or other forms of violence by that partner before age 18.3 The burden of TDV is not shared equally across all groups—sexual minority groups are disproportionately affected by all forms of violence, and some racial/ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by many types of violence.
What are the consequences?

Unhealthy, abusive, or violent relationships can have severe consequences and short-and long-term negative effects on a developing teen. For instance, youth who are victims of TDV are more likely to:

  • Experience symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Engage in unhealthy behaviors, like using tobacco, drugs, and alcohol
  • Exhibit antisocial behaviors, like lying, theft, bullying or hitting
  • Think about suicide

Violence in an adolescent relationship sets the stage for problems in future relationships, including intimate partner violence and sexual violence perpetration and/or victimization throughout life. For instance, youth who are victims of dating violence in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college.

How can we stop teen dating violence it before it starts?

Supporting the development of healthy, respectful, and nonviolent relationships has the potential to reduce the occurrence of TDV and prevent its harmful and long-lasting effects on individuals, their families, and the communities where they live. During the pre-teen and teen years, it is critical for youth to begin to learn the skills needed—such as effectively managing feelings and using healthy communication— to create and foster healthy relationships.

CDC developed Dating Matters®: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships to stop teen dating violence before it starts. It focuses on 11-14 year olds and includes multiple prevention components for individuals, peers, families, schools, and neighborhoods. All of the components work together to reinforce healthy relationship messages and reduce behaviors that increase the risk of dating violence. Please visit the Dating Matters website to learn more!

CDC also developed a technical package, Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan: A Technical Package of Programs, Policies, and Practices pdf icon[4.52 MB, 64 Pages, 508] that describes strategies and approaches that are based on the best available evidence for preventing intimate partner violence (IPV), including TDV. Consistent with CDC’s emphasis on primary prevention, the package includes multiple strategies that can be used in combination to stop IPV and TDV before it starts.

How can we stop teen dating violence it before it starts

 

See Intimate Partner Violence Resources for articles, publications, data sources, and prevention resources for Teen Dating Violence.

      1. Breiding MJ, Basile KC, Smith SG, Black MC, Mahendra RR. (2015). Intimate partner violence surveillance: uniform definitions and recommended data elements, version 2.0. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
      2. Kann L, McManus T, Harris WA, Shanklin SL, Flint KH, Queen, B, et al. (2018). Youth risk behavior surveillance–United States, 2017. MMWR Surveillance Summaries; 67(SS-8):1-114.
      3. Smith, SG, Zhang, X, Basile, KC, Merrick, MT, Wang, J, Kresnow, M, Chen, J. (2018). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2015 Data Brief—Updated Release. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
      4. Foshee VA, McNaughton Reyes HL, Gottfredson NC, Chang LY, Ennett ST. (2013). A longitudinal examination of psychological, behavioral, academic, and relationship consequences of dating abuse victimization among a primarily rural sample of adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health; 53(6):723-729.
      5. Roberts TA, Klein JD, Fisher S. (2003). Longitudinal effect of intimate partner abuse on high-risk behavior among adolescents. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine; 157(9):875-881.
      6. Exner-Cortens D, Eckenrode J, Rothman E. (2003). Longitudinal associations between teen dating violence victimization and adverse health outcomes. Pediatrics; 131(1):71-78.
      7. Smith PH, White JW, Holland LJ. (2003). A longitudinal perspective on dating violence among adolescent and college-age women. American Journal of Public Health; 93(7):1104–1109.
Page last reviewed: March 12, 2019