Can You Talk to Teens About Healthy Relationships and Teen Dating Violence?

February 16, 2017
A young person wearing black sneakers, with their hands folded.
Photo of Dr. Marylouise KelleyMarylouise Kelley, Director, Division of Family Violence Prevention and Services

Teen dating violence is a big problem. According to the CDC 2013 National Youth Behavior Survey, one in three young people have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence.

Parents, would you be able to recognize the signs if your teen was in an abusive relationship? In a 2009 study from Teen Research Unlimited (PDF) Visit disclaimer page , although a majority of parents (82%) said they were confident that they would be able to recognize if their child was in an abusive relationship, 58% could not identify the signs of abuse. Only a third of teens in abusive relationships have told anyone about the violence (PDF) Visit disclaimer page .

If a teen came to you for help, would you be comfortable talking about teen dating violence? If your answer is no or you’re unsure, learning more about teen dating violence can help.

Knowing the Signs

Even if he or she isn’t ready to talk about the abuse, there are signs that a teen is in an abusive relationship. Recognize some of the signs of abuse:

  • Losing interest in things that used to be important
  • Receiving excessive texts and other communications from their boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Spending less time with family and friends
  • Getting worried about how a dating partner will react
  • Feeling pressured to do things a certain way
  • Making excuses about a dating partner’s behaviors

Talking to and supporting Teens

Talking to teens about the health of their relationships or hook-ups is a proactive way to support teens, even if they are not in an abusive relationship. It’s never too early to start having these conversations — childhood and adolescence are crucial times to discuss love, respect, and boundaries.

You can help children and youth who have experienced violence and teen dating violence. To learn about the brain science behind how caring adults can help youth overcome trauma and build resiliency, check out this public awareness campaign, Changing Minds Now Visit disclaimer page . Check out these tips (PDF) Visit disclaimer page for talking with your teen about relationships. Read some words of advice Visit disclaimer page on how to help your teen. Use this conversation card Visit disclaimer page to help you start age-appropriate conversations with children and teen about healthy relationships.

You can make a huge difference in the lives of children and teens. One study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence Visit disclaimer page followed children from kindergarten through 18 years of age. It found that the quality of the parent-child relationship during early adolescence was a significant predictor of adolescent dating violence victimization and perpetration.

Connecting Teens to Supports and Services

Connect your teen with other teens and to resources made specifically for them. The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence coordinates a center for healthy relationships for teens Visit disclaimer page that develops tools, posters, curricula, model policies, etc. To find out how teens are mobilizing in your community, please contact your state domestic violence coalition Visit disclaimer page .

And if your teen won’t talk to you, they can reach out to loveisrespect, the national teen dating abuse hotline. Teens can chat online at They can text “loveis” to 22522. Or they can call the 24/7/365 hotline at 1-866-331-9474. Print and share the Hanging Out or Hooking Up: Teen Safety palm Visit disclaimer page card so teens can evaluate their relationship and identify the signs of abuse. If your teen is experiencing abuse online, have them visit and take an interactive test Visit disclaimer page on what is cool or not cool in a relationship.

Raising Awareness of Teen Dating Violence

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. This month, join our upcoming events to learn more about how this issue affects teens and the programs available to support teens. Take part in the social media efforts at #teenDVAM to promote healthy relationships for teens.

Further Resources:

The Family Violence Prevention and Services Program is the primary federal funder for domestic violence emergency shelter and supportive services. We are proud to support loveisrespect, Futures Without Violence, domestic violence resource and capacity building centers, state and territorial domestic violence coalitions, tribal organizations, and the national domestic violence hotline, all of which work to address and end domestic violence in communities across the Nation.

ACF Issues: