While dating violence may often be associated with adults, it also happens in relationships among teens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that over 10 percent of high school students in Washington, D.C., and more than 9 percent of students in the United States reported being hit, slammed into something or injured with an object or weapon on purpose by someone they were dating in the year prior to the survey.

This survey also found that more than 7 percent of high school students in the District of Columbia and more than 10 percent of high school students in the United States experienced sexual dating violence by someone they were dating one or more times in the year prior to the survey.

What is teen dating violence?

Teen dating violence is the physical, sexual or psychological/emotional violence within a dating relationship, as well as stalking. It can occur in person or electronically and may occur between a current or former dating partner, according to the CDC.

Typically, the rates of teen dating violence are higher in females than males, both locally and regionally. 

At-risk teens

Teens are at an increased risk for suffering or committing dating violence if they’ve experienced prior traumatic experiences, such as child abuse or witnessing family violence or violence among peers. Depression and difficulty communicating within relationships also increases teens’ risk for dating violence.

The CDC states that “teens receive messages about how to behave in relationships from peers, adults in their lives and the media. All too often these examples suggest violence in a relationship is okay. Violence is never acceptable.”

For a comprehensive list of risk factors, parents can visit the CDC’s webpage on teen dating violence.

Signs and symptoms of teen dating violence

Parents should be aware of and watch for these signs and symptoms of dating violence in their teenagers:

  • Isolation from loved ones and friends
  • Spending excessive time with their partner
  • Unexplained injuries or bruising
  • Multiple physical complaints like headaches or abdominal pain
  • Mood swings or depressed moods
  • Sudden changes in friends, dress or activities

Diagnosing dating violence in teens

Dating violence is diagnosed when the patient discloses the violent actions to their provider. Healthcare providers can also routinely screen adolescents using the FISTS (Fighting, Injuries, Sex, Threats, Self-Defense) or HEADSS (Home/Environment, Education and Employment, Activities, Drugs, Sexuality, Suicide/Depression) assessments.

Long-term effects of dating violence

Teens who experience dating violence may develop depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and gynecologic and gastrointestinal complaints. Additionally, these teens can experience re-victimization at the hand of other partners throughout their lifetime.


Allison McCarley Jackson Allison McCarley Jackson, MD, is the Division Chief of the Child and Adolescent Protection Center at Children’s National. She specializes in providing direct medical care to abused and neglected children.

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