Recognizing the Signs of Teen Dating Violence

Know the signs & talk to the young people in your life.

Warning! I am not a perfect driver. My infractions are few and I’m grateful no one has landed in the hospital because I was behind the wheel. Years ago, I backed into a truck parked in the center of my cul de sac. I saw it earlier that morning, but when backing out of the garage with kids in the backseat…I forgot it was sitting there until the sound of bending metal halted what I thought was going to be a day in the park. Literally, we were going to a picnic. It was an old Ford; you know the heavy-duty ones made of true steel and impenetrable. The owner was nice and gracious; there wasn’t even a scratch. Nevertheless, I drove away shaken up and with a nice ding on my bumper.

That truck was a warning for me. When I saw it the first time I thought, “That shouldn’t be there” and “I wonder who that truck belongs to” so I just tucked it away. It wasn’t until I slammed into it with my car that it became very clear to me what it was. It was an accident waiting to happen.

This story comes to mind when I think of teen dating violence. You see, I saw the truck! I knew it was out of place and I was very aware that something negative could result from it being in the middle of the street; yet I tucked it away. Moreover, because I did not address the situation, my life continued as usual with distractions like compounded responsibilities and planned activities with family and friends. The truck became normal, a backdrop and enmeshed with my routine until something terrible happened.

Teaching our teens warning signs of relationship/partner abuse is an important step because they see and experience life through different lenses and often lack enough life experiences to have concrete views of what is and is not okay. In addition, because of age, their ability to think hypothetically may be limited to their experiences and the experiences of their peers. Establishing space for you and your teen to put your heads together to talk about and identify important values and aspects of dating is crucial.

Here a few warning signs to look out for and discuss with your teen:

  1.  Gender Denigration
    This includes words or actions that degrades or lowers the partner’s worth or value.
  2. Personal Putdowns
    These comments humiliate or tarnish your image; these can be done in private or public (and not necessarily in anger).
  3. Verbal Aggression
    These are harsh, hostile, hurtful or intimidating comments.
  4. Jealousy
    This is a possessiveness that keeps up with the partner’s whereabouts and activities.
  5. Social Restrictions
    These often limit a partner’s access to people, places, resources and goals.
  6. Exit-Control Tactics
    These are strategies used that makes leaving the relationship emotionally difficult, for example, threatening self-harm if the partner leaves.

These are scary issues for anyone, but especially for teens. They can easily interpret these actions as noble, caring and even loving. It’s only in “hindsight” that they see something terrible and destructive. We can equip our teens with an early detection system of dating values and ways to address them. These warning signs will eventually become bigger issues, so let’s start the conversation today!

Author: Tawnya Kitt


Kylie A. Murphy and David I. Smith (2010). Adolescent Girls’ Responses to Warning Signs of Abuse in Romantic Relationships: Implications for Youth-Targeted Relationship Violence Program. RMIT University, Australia. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol 25, Number 4 10.1177/0886260509334392


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