Teen Dating Violence (Can You Start A Conversation)
As a parent, youth performance coach and a member of the mental health field, I try to help my fellow coaches understand what mental health issues may present themselves in our training space. Over the next several posts I will touch on “teen dating violence”, an issue that has quietly grown into a national health crisis in the U.S. The goal in this first post is about building awareness and a foundation to start a conversation in our training communities with our teen athletes and their parents.
I called this section not good simply because I could not find a better way to describe the results of an unscientific poll I completed. The single question asked, “When is teen dating violence month?” and if they knew the answer I planned to follow up with “What is the color of teen dating month?” The answers ranged simply from “I do not know” to “I did not know there was such a thing.” The only affirmative answers I received were from others who worked in the field.
Unfortunately, I do not recall one of the parents I asked getting the correct answer. This comes as no surprise as statistics demonstrate that 3 in 4 parents have never broached the conversation with their teens about teen dating violence (nrcdv.org). In fairness, publicizing teen dating violence falls way short of the scope of domestic violence. The lack of awareness about teen intimate partner violence (IPV) provides a gap allowing adults to often overlook certain issues or fail to take their teen daughter’s relationship concerns seriously because there were no outward signs of abuse such as a black eye or bruises (2007).
In this post you will be introduced to the various forms of tactics a batterer uses and no longer overlook the red flags associated with teen dating violence. So, as we begin to build the foundation, I want touch on two important issues. One, I will use teen dating violence (TDV), Intimate partner violence (IPV) or Domestic Violence (DV) interchangeably. I will also refer to teen girls as the victim in these violent teen relationships. Yes, teen IPV can go both ways, however, as adults, men commit 85% of all criminal assaults on their partner and women are killed 3.5 times more often than men (theduluthmodel.org). My goal is to be proactive with helping our teen boys avoid being one of the statistics described above and help them develop the skills to build healthy and constructive intimate relationships. And as I move forward with building my youth program. I want to hold dear to Fredrick Douglas’ quote about our youth boys.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
*The first assignment is to identify teen dating violence month and identify its color.
Not My Issue – Reflections from an expert
The DV community does an excellent job of publicizing domestic violence during the month of October. When we think about relationships and violence, many may be led to think violence in relationships is a grown-up issue. And even when an issue becomes public, the lack of clear communication from our teens and lack of overall understanding have positioned many parents to assume this not my issue.
In controversial posts such as these, one that can stir up resistance and denial, I often refer to the statement from self-defense expert and author Gavin De Becker in his book The gift of fear…., and why he shares statistics first. De Becker explains, the importance of presenting the facts first may influence the likelihood that the reader will believe it is at least possible that your teen girl, boy or someone you know is tied to a relationship involving teen dating violence (1997). He adds, after still receiving the statistics, some will still weigh in and feel this is someone else’s problem, in someone else’s peer group, and/or in someone else’s school. If this is your initial thought, especially as a coach, my inner Lee Corso on Saturday morning is screaming out “not so fast my friend!” Because as you will see, especially as a coach or trainer, the more teen athletes we have, the more alarming the statistics are simply because of exposure!
I highly recommend the reading of the book The Gift Of Fear, Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence. Gavin De Becker
Teem Dating Violence, A National Health Crisis
To be considered an epidemic, an issue must affect millions. According to one of the Center for Disease’s polls, 1 in 9 female teens report having experienced physical dating violence within the last year. More than 1 in 7 female teens experienced sexual dating violence and approximately 23% of women 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 the age of 18 (cdc.gov).
There is now a metric ton of evidence that support the presence of teen dating violence, that in some cases can begin as early as 12. The CDC describes intimate partner violence (IPV) as widespread and now falling into a category of a national health crisis. This child crisis has consequences! Childtrends report being a victim of teen dating can cause a wide range of issues such as but not limited to increasing the risk of teen pregnancy, depression, onset of eating disorders, low self-esteem, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), poor academic performance and suicidal ideation (childtrends.org).
De Becker writes, “Americans are experts at denial.” He adds “we consistently sing that song that doesn’t happen here.” (1997). Be aware that teen dating violence occurs in all communities, ethnicities, races, socioeconomic groups, genders, and same sex couples. And for many adult female victims of domestic violence, violence in their intimate relationships have been occurring their whole dating lives or early on in their dating lives.
Not Just A Black Eye
One of the biggest misconceptions about domestic violence is that it only involves a man beating a woman. In “most cases” our teen girls in IPV relationships are rarely going to walk through our doors with a black eye or trying to hide bruises. However, it is important to understand that the trauma associated with emotional abuse is just as harmful as physical abuse. In other words, the emotional consequences of teen dating violence can lead to all “health risk behaviors” that can include such experiences as substance abuse, unhealthy weight control, sexual risky behavior, and pregnancy (Ismail et. al., 2007).
The Teen Power and Control Wheel
When I had the opportunity to co-facilitate adult male batterer groups, the Duluth Model’s power and control wheel and equality wheel was the tool of choice used to address and understand the behaviors of the male batterer. The power and control wheel contain eight behaviors or tactics teen batterers use to gain power and control over their victim(s). (listed below) The power and control wheel came into existence in the 1980s. It was created by workers in the field holding conversations with women who had been battered into submission by their partner. The tactics used on the wheel were the most often experienced by the female victims in these violent relationships.
Domestic violence – is simply a pattern of behavior (commonly referred to as “tactics”) used to gain power and control over another person. To be clear, all relationships are on a continuum ranging from healthy to non-healthy and includes arguments and disagreements. However, the dynamics of the relationship shift when conflict involves the threat of the situation ending in physical or sexual violence (outside). In other words, all relationships involve some conflict, but when physical or sexual harm is a possibility, the victim knows she is at risk of harm or abuse(duluthmodel.org).
The Eight Behaviors or Tactics Of IPV
As we look at the power and control wheel and move through this series, emotional abuse will be the most common tactic used by our teen batterers. Emotional abuse happens when the batterer tries to make the victim feel a sense of diminished identity, dignity, and self-worth. According to research, emotional abuse is reported to occur in 76% of relationships involving teen dating violence (teendv.org.). However, I cannot say it enough, it is always important to understand how emotional abuse can cause just as much damage as physical and sexual abuse over time. As I touched on above, the dynamics of emotional abuse can cause self-esteem issues, anxiety, depression, early entry into alcohol use, marijuana use, cause of eating disorders and risky sexual behavior that could lead to pregnancy or sexual transmitted infections (STIs) and suicide (Werhle et. al., 2009). Also, when we ignore emotional abuse, the victim is positioned to feel non-valued, and their thoughts, feelings, and behavioral choices are not validated and/or are actively condemned (Ismail et. al., 2007).
So, as I wrap up this first post, here are 5 things from childtrends.org to consider as we move forward to position ourselves to start a conversation with our teens athletes and parents about teen dating violence:
- 1 in 4 teens have experienced some form of dating violence.
- Although my posts will focus on females as the victims, research demonstrates that male teens are equally likely to perpetrate and experience dating violence. Females are shown to sustain more physical injuries at greater rates than males.
- Technology & IPV – IPV takes the form of sending abusive texts, posting sexual pictures, or trolling the social media posts of a partner. For example, childtrends.org reports one-third of teens explained they had been texted 10 to 30 times an hour by a partner stalking them.
- Teen dating and adult IPV has different warning signs. As the teen power and control wheel suggests, isolation from friends, the constant need to speak with their dating partner, making excuses for their partner, unexplained injuries and issues in school can all be signs of teen dating violence. Teens may also live in homes where their parents are also involved in a domestic violence relationship.
- Educate yourself to start the conversation
There is plethora of resources available to help us recognize the dynamics of teen dating violence. If we are around teens regularly, we all must become proficient in knowing how to start this conversation. Parents, coaches, guidance counselors, and other healthcare professionals must be able to identify red flags to change the statistics of parent holding these conversations with their teens.
Kris J. Snyder MFT, MBA, CPT, PNF1
Resources to review:
loveisrespect.org (Teen DV Month)
ncrdv.org (teen dating violence awareness month project (DVAP)
teendv.org (Teen Dating Violence Awareness)
Ismail, F., Berman H., and Ward-Griffin, C. Dating Violence and the Health of Young Women: A Feminist Narrative Study Health Care for Women International 28:453-477, 2007 Copyright @ Taylor & Francis Group LLC. DOI: 10.1080/07399330701226438 ISSN: 0739-9332/1096-4665 online accessed on
Wekerle, C, Leung, E., Wall A., MacMillan, Boyle, M., Trocme N., Waechter, R., The contribution of childhood emotional abuse to teen dating violence among child protective services-involved youth Child Abuse & Neglect 33 (1), 45-58, 2009