Adolescent Dating Violence

A guide to help your teen understand, avoid and navigate the risks of abusive relationships

It’s a startling figure: one in three.

That’s the number of Canadian adolescents thought to have experienced dating violence–be it physical, psychological or cyber–in a 2017-2018 study (The National Prevalence of Adolescent Dating Violence in Canada). This is markedly higher than adults; according to the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS), about 12 percent of women and about 11 per cent of men experienced intimate partner violence within the previous year.

Researchers have long known that adolescents are at risk of forming and maintaining unhealthy relationships. Surging hormones, increased concern of social status and relationships, inexperience, and relative immaturity are a few factors that come into play. The same researchers know that dating violence in adolescence can lead to a host of developmental and emotional problems and youth experiencing abuse while dating are more likely to experience intimate partner violence when they get older. This puts extra importance on detecting violence in youth dating relationships and helping educate adolescents on how to recognize signs of psychological, physical and sexual abuse in their peers’ and their own dating relationships.

Unfortunately, most teenagers who experience dating violence don’t reach out to their parents or other adults for help; only about eight percent choose to report abusive behaviour in their romantic relationships.

So, what can adults do to help keep teenagers safe from dating violence? Expert consensus is that teaching young people, from as early and age as possible, what makes a healthy and respectful relationship, is the best way to help adolescents recognize unhealthy and abusive behaviours in their own relationships, as well as their peers’. For guidance, adults–and adolescents–can consult a number of resources online.

Kids Help Phone says teenagers should feel safe, comfortable and respected being themselves around their date, and feel able to trust and be honest with them. The Canadian Red Cross has a list of rights that everyone, regardless of age, has in relationships. They also offer tips for maintaining a positive relationship and advice for what to do when you’re angry.

Prevnet advises adults to learn about the different types of dating violence and signs that they may be happening, so adults are better equipped to intervene even if an adolescent doesn’t volunteer information about an abusive situation. In addition to more blatant signs, such as frequent bruising, becoming withdrawn and spending time only with their romantic partner, teenagers may stop wearing makeup–or suddenly start wearing more, or become more passive or more anxious. They may constantly check in with their partner by texts. Their partner may call them names or belittle them, or demand they send photos to prove where they are.

The Canadian Red Cross offers a list of tips for parents to help adolescents avoid dating violence, including what to do if a teenager confides that they are experiencing some form of abuse. The organization recommends adults listen to the young person without judgement or expressing doubt. While adults should discuss with the young person the various options, such as counselling and reporting their partner to the police, the youth themself should be in control of the situation, and the adult should support their decisions. It also provides advice and resources for getting out of a violent relationship.

Prevnet has numerous tools for adolescents to recognize dating violence, as well as information for parents and caregivers. Kids Help Phone offers learning resources, immediate crisis services, counselling and peer support forums, as well advice on making a safety plan when escaping the relationship and contact information for programs and services available in the teen’s community.

With the proper information and support, Canadian adolescents can gain the knowledge and skills they can use into adulthood to nurture healthy and respectful relationships.

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