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Parents should look out for signs of teen dating violence

Laura Clary is a registered nurse and clinic manager for the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination, or SAFE, program at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

Note to parents of teenagers: Be mindful of the perils of teen dating. The fact that your child doesn’t have a black eye or swollen lip doesn’t mean she, or he, is not in an abusive relationship. Teen dating violence can occur among children as young as 12 years old. The signs aren’t always obvious, especially in the era of social media. Laura Clary, a registered nurse and clinic manager for the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination, or SAFE, program at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, discusses some of the less visible signs for which parents should be on the lookout.

How many teens are victims of dating violence?


Teen dating violence is a big problem, affecting young people from all communities. Statistics show that up to one in three adolescents are victims of physical, emotional or sexual abuse from their partner.

At what age can it start?


While typically dating violence is most common among women ages 16 to 24, we have seen dating violence begin in the sixth grade or with children as young as 12 years old. It is essential that parents are aware of the magnitude of the problem and to know and be aware of the warning signs.

What are some signs parents can look for to determine if their teen is in a violent relationship?

Awareness is essential, and parents should know the most common warning signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Often times many parents think to look for physical signs of injuries, such as a black eye or bruises, but there are so many other things they should be aware of as well. Do you notice that your child’s partner is jealous or controlling, perhaps constantly checking their cell phone without permission, or frequently calling and checking in? Is your child insulted or belittled by their partner, or perhaps your child frequently blames themselves for problems in the relationship? Maybe you don’t see these things, but notice a change in your child’s behavior. Are their grades dropping in school or are they frequently absent? Do you notice that your child is becoming distant from the family, or losing interest in activities which they previously enjoyed? All of these things can be signs that your child is in an abusive relationship, and that they need your help.

Is it both boys and girls who can become victims of violence?

Intimate partner violence and dating violence does not discriminate and it can affect people of all ages, race, gender, and socioeconomic status. While this problem can affect people from all walks of life, studies have found that young women, between the ages of 16 and 24, experience the highest rate of violence.

Does it usually occur in a romantic relationship or can it happen with other kinds of friendships?

While violence can happen in all types of relationships, typically for it to be considered “dating violence” or “intimate partner violence,” there is an established romantic connection in which one person uses a pattern of abusive behaviors to exert power and control over another.

How has social media contributed to teen violence?


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We live in a world where access to the internet and social media is at our fingertips. Since the majority of teens possess a cellphone, often with no adult supervision, these devices have made it easier for abusers to maintain control over their partner. Abusers can utilize social media in numerous ways, including monitoring a partner’s whereabouts, forcing them to share an account, expressing aggression and reestablishing contact after a fight or break-up. Additionally, social media posts often portray only the good times we have in our daily life, making it more difficult to recognize an abusive situation.

What should a parent do if they suspect their child is a victim of teen violence?

Finding the right time to talk, and the right words to initiate a conversation about such a difficult issue, can be challenging for parents. Be sure to speak with your child in private, without siblings around. You will get more honest answers if you set up a comfortable environment and listen respectfully. Be specific about why you are concerned. As hard as it may be, remain calm and non-judgmental, listen to what your child has to say, and let them know that you are there for them.

What if a teenager is in denial that they are in a violent relationship?

It is not uncommon for teens to deny that they are in an abusive relationship. Sometimes they may recognize the abusive behavior but may excuse or minimize the significance. A question you could ask your teen is, “If someone was treating your best friend like this, what would you want him or her to do?”

Is it ever proper to get the police involved?


Teen dating violence is not the same as child abuse (which involves an abuser who is a guardian or caregiver) and is not a mandatory report. Police should only be called if a crime has occurred. Generally, we leave it up to the victim – even if he or she is young – to decide when to report. This approach also helps empower victims to make their own choices, which they need to do to recover from controlling dating partners. Obviously, if the victim is in immediate danger, police should be notified immediately.