What Your Doctor Wants you to Know About Teen Dating Violence

By Dr. Michelle Choe, pediatric resident at CHOC Children’s

The teenage years are a time of rapid growth and development as adolescents go through many physical and emotional changes. This is also a time to explore new relationships. Starting to date can be one of the wonderful experiences of adolescence. However, it can turn into a serious problem if tainted by dating violence. Over 40 percent of high school students have reported being victims of dating violence at least once.

What is dating violence?

There are different forms of dating violence for parents and teens to be aware of:

  1. Verbal/Emotional abuse: name-calling, threats, blackmailing, criticizing and stalking.
  2. Sexual abuse: verbal attacks on gender or sexual orientation, unwanted sexual touching, forcing a victim to engage in sexual activity, and rape.
  3. Physical abuse: shoving, punching, slapping, pinching, kicking, hair-pulling, choking, use of a weapon.

Anyone can be the victim of dating violence. Males or female of any age can be subject to dating violence, despite common stereotypes that only women are affected.

It’s important to be aware of the signs of an abusive relationship. When you decide that your child is ready to date, have an honest conversation with them about these warning signs. Encourage them to come to you if they ever feel physically or emotionally unsafe. Remind them that their pediatrician can be a trusted source as well.

What are warning signs of an abusive relationship?
  • Perpetrator of dating violence may be jealous, possessive or controlling. He/she may have a history of being violent and fighting with other people.
  • Dating partner makes all the decisions and tells you what to do.
  • He/she checks up on you all the time and doesn’t let you contact family or friends like you normally would.
  • He/she calls you names, tries to humiliate you, tries to get you use alcohol/drugs, or have sex when you don’t want to.
  • He/she likes to “wrestle playfully” but ends up hurting you.
  • He/she threatens to commit suicide if you don’t do what they tell you to do, or you try to break up with them.
    • If this happens, don’t go check on them. Hang up the phone and call 911 with the person’s name, address and phone number. Emergency services will check on them. You are not responsible for their words or actions. People who are talking about killing themselves need help from a trained professional and you are not able to provide the needed support.
  • You feel anxious, uneasy, depressed because of your relationship.
  • You are scared you’re going to get hurt or become pregnant.

Are you worried that a friend might be in trouble? Warning signs of a victim of dating violence include:

  • Sudden changes in clothes or make-up
  • Declining academic performance
  • No longer hanging out with other friends
  • Changes in eating and/or sleeping habits
  • Using drugs/alcohol
  • Marks of physical abuse such as bruises, scratches, bites or burns
What to do if you think you are the victim of dating violence

If you think you might be a victim of dating violence, talk to an adult you trust immediately. You can talk to an adult such as a parent, family member, teacher, pediatrician/doctor, priest/pastor, school counselor, or school principal. End the relationship with your abusive partner. Make sure the break is definite and final – block their number on your phone, block their profiles online and on phone apps, and ask your friends to block them too so they don’t harass you or your friends. If your ex goes to your school and is harassing you, report it to your counselor or principal. If you are being stalked by an ex, report it to police If you are worried about your safety before or after the break-up, get advice from a counselor or teen violence prevention hotline. If you are ever in danger, call 911.

Dating violence hotlines and resources

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), 1-800-787-3224 (TTY line for deaf callers), 24 hours, 7days a week

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAIN) 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), 24 hours, 7days a week

Battered Lesbian Hotline 1-800-224-0211

Suicide & Crisis Hotline 1-800-999-9999, 24 hours, 7 days a week

Youth Crisis Hotline 1-800-448-4663, 24 hours, 7 days a week – for youth, 17 years of age or younger who are in crisis

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