Module 8: Teen Dating Violence

Module Purpose

The purpose of this module is to:

  • Explore teen dating violence.
  • Learn about the impact of teen dating violence.
  • Examine the experience of teens in abusive relationships.
  • Learn the warning signs of teen dating violence.
  • Locate resources for additional information and support.

Lived Experience: Kimmy Johnson

Read Kimmy's Story


I am so lucky to have King in my life as my boyfriend. He’s the only one who understands me—sometimes I think he’s the only one who really loves me. He tells me he loves me all the time, more than anyone else does, and that makes me feel special. And he’s just so great—I can’t believe I get to go out with a guy like him. I mean, he’s the most popular guy in school, and now he’s playing center on the school basketball team, even though he’s just a junior. And he’s got great grades—he’s amazing.

Since my mom and dad split up, and my mom is so distant and trying to be perfect all the time, I don’t feel like I have anyone but him and my friend Cheri to talk to. I wish King liked Cheri better. He gets angry and says that I spend too much time with her, and that I should be spending more time with him. It’s hard though, because she’s been my best friend for years. But I get it. When you really love someone you have to give them everything to show them you love them. And Cheri and I still see each other in school, and I still go over to her house when King has practice after school. I just make sure I’m ready and out front when he drives by to get me after practice to take me home. He doesn’t like it when I’m not ready, because he’s usually so tired from practice, and just wants me there to take care of him.

About Teen Dating Violence

In the United States, dating violence is a significant issue and greatly impacts the lives of teens. In Contra Costa County, it is estimated 10,000 adolescents are victims of physical violence and between 20,000 and 30,000 adolescents are verbally or psychologically abused by a romantic partner each year.

  • Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year (1).

  • One in three teen girls are victims of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner (2).

  • Teens who are victims of dating violence are more likely to be depressed and do poorly in school (3).

  • Fifty percent of youth reporting both dating violence and rape also reported attempting suicide, compared to 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys (4).

  • Fifty-seven percent of teens know someone who has been physically, sexually, or verbally abusive in a dating relationship (5).

  • Only 33% of teens who were in an abusive relationship ever told anyone about the abuse (5).

At the same time many parents surveyed believed teen dating violence is not an issue or didn’t know if it was an issue (6).

You can find more information at

What Is teen dating violence?

Dating violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors used to exert power and control over a dating partner (7).

Dating violence involves systematic patterns of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and may include the following types of behavior:

  • Physical violence is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, or other type of physical force.

  • Sexual abuse is forcing a partner to take part in a sex act when the partner does not consent.

  • Emotional abuse is threatening a partner or their possessions or loved ones, or harming a partner’s sense of self-worth. Examples are stalking, name-calling, intimidation, or not letting a partner see friends and family and can include the use of words, gestures, weapons, or other means to communicate the intent to cause harm.

The abuse that teenagers may experience in their relationships has some similarities to abuse in adult relationships. But it also different. Because of a teenager’s age, life experience, and dependence on adults, being in an abusive relationship poses unique problems. Many times teens are scared to tell adults or their peers about the abuse. In addition, their relationships may not be taken seriously by the adults in their lives. Compounding these issues, teens often have an inability to avoid the abuser, i.e. if they attend the same school or participate in similar activities. Teens may face peer pressure to be or remain in relationships. On top of it all, there is often a significant lack of resources and services for teens in abusive relationships.

Digital technology (cell phones, texting, e-mail, and social networking) is a method that can be used to abuse and control. Digital abuse is often experienced by teens in an abusive relationship.

  • One in three teens say they are text messaged 10, 20, or 30 times an hour by a partner inquiring where they are, what they are doing, or who they are with.

  • Sixty-eight percent of teens say their partner’s sharing private or embarrassing pictures/videos on cell phones and computers is a serious problem.

  • Seventy-one percent of teens regard their partner’s spreading rumors about them on cell phones and social networking sites as a serious problem (8).

Our efforts to address teen dating violence must extend into the college years. 43% of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors (9). Many college students share that it is often difficult to identify what dating abuse is and they don’t know how to help someone who is experiencing it.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Physical Dating Violence Among High School Students – United State, 2003,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 19, 2006, Vol. 55, No. 19.

  2. Davis, Antoinette, MPH. 2008. Interpersonal and Physical Dating Violence Among Teens. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus.

  3. Banyard VL and Cross C. Consequences of Teen Dating Violence: Understanding Intervening Variables in Ecological Context. Violence Against Women. 2008.

  4. D.M. Ackard and D. Neumark-Sztainer, Minneapolis, MN. Date Violence and Date Rape Among Adolescents: Association with Disordered Eating Behaviors and Psychological Health, Child Abuse and Neglect. 2006.

  5. Liz Claiborne Inc., Conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, February 2005.

  6. Women’s Health,” June/July 200, Futures without Violence and Advocates for Youth.

  7. Break the Cycle -

  8. Technology and Teen Dating Abuse Survey, 2007.

  9. Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. (Formerly: Liz Claiborne, Inc.), Conducted by Knowledge Networks, (December 2010). “College Dating Violence and Abuse Poll,” Available at: Click here to download this resource.


Relationship Spectrum

All relationships exist on a spectrum from healthy to abusive with unhealthy somewhere in the middle. The following information was adapted from (1).

Healthy relationships are based on equality and respect.

Healthy Relationships

You make decisions together and can openly discuss whatever you’re dealing with, like relationship problems and sexual choices. You enjoy spending time together but can be happy apart.


Unhealthy relationships are based on attempts to control the other person.

Unhealthy Relationships

One person tries to make most of the decisions. They may pressure their partner about sex or refuse to see how their actions can hurt. In an unhealthy relationship, you feel like you should only spend time with your partner.

Abusive relationships are based on an imbalance of power and control.

Abusive Relationship

One person is making all of the decisions — about sexual choices, friend groups, boundaries, even what’s true and what’s not. You spend all of your time together and feel like you can’t talk to other people, especially about what’s really happening in your relationship.


To determine how your relationship falls on the relationship spectrum go here or click here to download a pdf.


  1. The Relationship Spectrum project was supported by Grant Number 90EV0426 from the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Family and Youth Services Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed at on April 11, 2018.


Lived Experience: Kimmy Johnson

Read Kimmy's Story


I’m just going to tell this the way it happened, and maybe it will make more sense. So, I have this math club tournament this weekend—the Brain Bowl. I’ve been prepping for it and prepping for it, and Mrs. Hardiway says I have a good chance of winning for our whole city. It’s so exciting—my mom is excited for the first time in a long time. So I’ve been spending more time after school studying, and of course that’s been making my boyfriend King mad. He wants me to spend time with him instead.

Well, finally, yesterday, King told me I couldn’t go to the Brain Bowl, and that I have to stay with him this weekend because he had a special surprise for me. I told him I had to go, and he got really angry, really upset. We were driving home and he started screaming at me that I didn’t love him if I didn’t do what he said. I told him to let me out of the car, and you know what he did? He slammed on the brakes, pulled over to the curb, and grabbed my hair and pulled my head back really hard. Then he told me if I went to the Bowl he’d have to break up with me. When I told him to stop, and that he was hurting me, he pulled me even harder towards him in the car—my scalp was on fire, it hurt so bad. And then he tried to kiss me while he was pulling my hair.

Well, I started crying and screamed at him, and the minute he let go I jumped out of the car and walked away. He followed me, and he started crying. He told me he was so sorry, and that he never meant to hurt me. He just told me that sometimes he loves me so much that it makes him crazy. I get that. I know love can make you crazy—sometimes I feel crazy when I think of him. I know this was just a one-time deal. I hugged him back and we got back in the car, and he cried and held me, and I cried. But now I don’t know what to do. I need to go to the Brain Bowl this weekend, but I’m afraid his heart will break if I go. I didn’t know relationships were going to be this hard.


Warning Signs that a Teen Is Experiencing Abuse

The following list includes common cues that a teen may be experiencing dating violence. Being in a relationship with someone who uses controlling behavior is often a tell-tale sign of abuse.

  • Truancy, skipping classes, or dropping out of school
    A person is in an abusive relationship may be encouraged to skip or drop out of school with their partner. An abusive relationship can also be very exhausting and not allow a lot of time or energy for school.

  • Excuses for their partner’s behavior
    A person is in an abusive relationship will often cover up or minimize their partner’s behavior.

  • Isolation from family and friends and loss of interest in activities
    An abusive partner will often demand that all free time be spent with them. They may also try to isolate their partner from support systems, like their other friends, in an attempt to make their partner overly reliant on them.

  • Suspicious bruises or injuries
    You may see marks or bruises that can’t be easily explained or the person provides an unlikely or strange explanation. You may also notice a change in the type of clothing that is being worn, such as long-sleeved shirts, and makeup to hide marks and bruises.

  • Alcohol or drug use
    A person who is in an abusive relationship may be encouraged or coerced to use alcohol or drugs, or will use alcohol and drugs in response to the abuse.

  • Sudden changes in mood or personality
    A person in an abusive relationship may exhibit signs depression, anxiety, loss of confidence, preoccupation with her partner, or withdrawal from family and friends, being very secretive or acting out. A person in an abusive relationship may also have noticeable changes in eating or sleeping patterns.

  • Worry about making their partner angry or jealous
    A person who was abused may appear overly concerned about upsetting their partner. They may appear worried about if they are late to meet their partner, talking to other people or participating in activities without their partner.

  • Visible anxiety about making independent decisions without their partner
    They may appear worried about making decisions or feel like they need to get permission to make plans. They may not be able to confirm plans until they check with their partner or they may question their ability to take part in an activity that is impromptu.

  • Sexual coercion and pregnancy
    Teens in abusive relationships are 3x more likely to become pregnant than non-abused teens.

  • Crying easily or overreacting to minor incidents
    A person in an abusive relationship may be living under extreme tension. And abusive relationship creates a significant amount of stress and can people can easily create an overreaction to minor incidents.


Lived Experience: Brian Carlson

Read Brian’s Story (now age 15)


Things are easier now that Amanda has left for college. She and Dad never made up after that last time when Dad left for a while. That was a year and a half ago. He and mom had been doing really well. Mom had been listening to Dad a lot, and he bought her a new TV when he came back to show her how sorry he was for breaking the old one. Even though it was her who kept changing the channel. Whatever. And now Amanda is gone, and life around here is way easier.

The best thing is that I’ve got a girlfriend now. She’s sweet, and so pretty, and she gets me. I mean, she can see down into my soul and make me feel good just by looking at me. She makes me feel really important. I can tell she’d totally into me—she’s always there to listen to me and hang out with me at lunch. I wish I had a car so I could take her out. Next year. Sometimes I even get her to sneak off campus with me during 5th period—we go down to the park and make out. She doesn’t like it that much—she’s missing Spanish, but she does it anyway, because she’s crazy about me. And I know that Caleb Lorenz keeps staring at her in Spanish—I think he’s into her. So it’s better this way, and she gets it, that she needs to show me she loves me. It’s great to have a woman that listens.



Warning Signs of Someone Being Abusive

It is challenging to identify dating violence through simply observing teen relationships. Often we look for outward signs of abuse, and in many cases miss cues that a teen may be abusive to their partner. In addition, we can notice more subtle signs that a relationships may be unhealthy or pose red flags for abusive behavior.

  • Insults made to their partner in public or private
    A teen using abuse may make negative comments about their partner, calling them things such as ditzy, dumb, or stupid or making suggestive sexual comments or gestures.
  • Blames others for their own problems
    A teen using abuse often isn’t able to accept responsibility for their own actions.
  • Significant age differences
    Teenagers in relationships with significant age differences pose a greater risk for abuse. Watch for older teens who habitually date younger partners.
  • Marked changes in mood or personality
    Extreme agitation, depression, social withdrawal, or aggressiveness can be a red flag for a person who is using abuse or violence.
  • Controlling behavior
    Controlling behaviors include determining how their partner dresses, who they spend time with, constantly checking in/texting to find out where they are and what they are doing.
  • Preoccupied or obsessed with weapons
    A person who is fascinated by weapons, spends a lot of time talking about weapons, or carries weapons can be a red flag for someoe who might use abusive behavior.
  • Threats to hurt self or others
    Threats to do harm can often be intended to manipulate a partner to remain in the relationship or return to the relationship.
  • Extreme jealousy and fights with others over their partner
    Possessiveness and jealous accusations may precede and/or follow violence. A person using abuse will often attempt to socially isolate their partner by forbidding them to see or talk to others or make accusations of cheating on them.
  • Pressuring others for dates or sex
    Getting angry or refusing to accept no for an answer when a person refuses to go out or have sex may be a warning sign for abuse. A person may also exhibit intense preoccupation with going out with a particular person.
  • Alcohol and drug use
    Alcohol or drugs are frequently used by teens who use violence. They may also use alcohol or drug use as an excuse for their own behavior.

Lived Experience: Mike Johnson

Read Mike's Story


I used to think my friend King was the best guy ever, but I think I’m going to kill him. Kimmy came home tonight with a black eye. I think I know how you can get so angry that you want to hurt someone but not my sister, man. Kimmy told me about what happened, but she didn’t have to tell me, actually. The black eye is enough. What a jerk. I mean, she won the Brain Bowl and she came back with that medal and the scholarship money. First thing when she walks in the door she calls him to tell him the good news. But then she’s saying “I’m sorry, King, yeah, King, I’m so sorry,” and she’ll meet him. Then he pulls up in front of the house and she runs out the door and jumps in his car. I felt so bad for Mom; she was going to make that nice dinner and everything.

Then she gets home late and goes straight to her room, but I followed her. I could see her face —mom was sleeping on the couch and didn’t see. Kimmy says he’s never hit her before, and he’s so sorry. She told me he just can’t help it, and he says he’ll never do it again. She is smarter than that, she knows the drill.


What Can We Do to Help?

We believe all teens should feel safe in their relationships and experience the characteristics of healthy relationships including; respect, safety, support, individuality, fairness, equality, acceptance, honesty, and trust. We all can play an active and important role in addressing and preventing teen dating violence.


It is important to raise awareness about teen dating violence as a very prevalent issue facing teenagers in every community across the United States. Preventing and addressing teen dating violence requires partnerships between schools, public agencies, and community-based groups. It is critical that we provide opportunities for teens to develop connections to supportive adults: parents, teachers, counselors, coaches, older youth in our communities.

Communities can take action to raise awareness. Campaigns such as One Billion Rising are focused on how we can come together to end violence.

Communities and schools can also raise awareness and provide training for adults who work with teens. In Their Shoes: Teens and Dating Violence is a revolutionary training tool that helps participants learn what dating is like for today’s teens by becoming a teen character, making choices about their relationship and seeing the results. This tool is available from the Families Thrive lending library. provides the following suggestions for communities:

  • Ensuring adequate screening among child welfare agencies, health care providers, schools, and other organizations to detect intimate partner violence and children exposed to such violence; screening for teen dating violence can be incorporated into efforts to detect other high-risk behaviors, such as bullying, delinquency, and substance use (1, 2, 4, 5)

  • Promoting and supporting state- and county-level interagency and cross-system collaboration to ensure access to appropriate services for teens experiencing dating violence, as well as for younger children exposed to violence; community responses should be comprehensive and coordinated, including child welfare services, law enforcement, domestic violence service providers, courts, schools, and teen-serving organizations (1, 2, 6)


School interventions can focus on creating a positive school environment. Schools also play an important role in helping teenagers learn about healthy relationships. suggests the following strategies for schools:

  • Supporting evidence-based, school-wide programs for middle and high school students to improve knowledge, attitudes, and norms regarding dating violence, and to help youth develop the skills to build healthy relationships; such programs should be culturally appropriate and address how to recognize and respond to violence (4, 5)

  • Setting school policies that foster a safe, supportive environment and promote student engagement in school, as positive school environments and student connectedness to school are linked to lower levels of violence (5, 6)

In Contra Costa County, schools can contact Stand! for Families Free of Violence to learn more about programs and other resources to promote healthy relationships. 


We can all take an active role in modeling healthy behaviors. When we observe signs of dating violence, we can respond in ways that provide support. If we see abusive or controlling behaviors, depending upon the situation, we can either make it clear the behavior is unacceptable or connect with other resources or organizations for support.

Adults can support youth conversations about healthy relationships. For conversational questions to get you started, download the Families Thrive Teen Dating Violence brief.

We can also become a mentor for kids and work to create a safe and violence-free environment by joining groups or organizations that support teens and work to reduce violence.

As an adult in the life of a teen, it is important to convey that you are there for them and they can come to you for help. Keep in mind, how we respond to teens around challenging issues, can creates barriers for our communication or can facilitate sharing. Teens have shared that when parents or adults simply say “leave your partner” that they are less likely to go to them to share what is happening. At the same time, they want us to take their relationships and their experiences seriously.

Here are some specific things we can do to support teens:

  • Help teens understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.

  • Be a positive role model.

  • Provide undivided attention and listen when teens talk to us.

  • Maintain an open environment or an “open door” policy.

  • Teach respectful and healthy communication skills.

  • Teach negotiation and compromise.

  • Be a resource for teens.

  • Know about all the resources available in your community that support teens.

  • Ensure that teens know it is okay to come to us when they need help.

  • Work to engage other supportive adults in our community.

  • Pay attention to and support policy change that would work to end teen dating violence.

  • Understand the warning signs of someone being abused and someone who is abusive.

  • Remind teens that they have the right to say “no” and must respect the rights of others.

  • Reinforce that dating should be fun and stress-free and that violence of any kind is never acceptable.

  • Avoid analyzing, interruptions, lecturing, or accusations.

  • Don’t push.

Together we can prevent teen dating violence.


  1. Rosewater, A., & Moore, K. (2010). Addressing domestic violence, child safety and well-being: Collaborative strategies for California families. California Leadership Group on Domestic Violence and Child Well-being. Click here to download this resource. 

  2. National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. (2012). Report of the Attorney General's National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from: Click here to download the report.

  3. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students. (n.d.). Teen dating violence in the United States: A fact sheet for schools. Retrieved from: Click here to download the factsheet

  4. National Institute of Justice. (2014). Prevention and intervention of teen dating violence. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. Retrieved from:

  5. Oudekerk, B., et al. (2014). Teen dating violence: How peers can affect risk & protective factors. National Institute of Justice. Retrieved from: Click here to download this resource. 

  6. Wilkins, N., et al. (2014). Connecting the dots: An overview of the links among multiple forms of violence. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Prevention Institute. Retrieved from: Click here to download this resource. 


Critical Thinking

This section is intended to allow us to integrate the training content into the lived experiences of families. Each of these critical thinking questions addresses one or more of the people in the Carlson, Choi, or Johnson families, and examines an aspect of their lives.

Take time to think about each of these questions, and think about responses from multiple stakeholders’ points of view. It may be helpful to go back and review sections of the curriculum, re-read the experiences of each family member, and engage in dialogue with community partners and co-workers.

  • Who around Kimmy might notice that something is wrong in her relationship with King? How could they help her?

  • What concerns do you have for Kimmy? Who could engage with her? How could they engage with her?

  • Brian is showing signs of using abuse in his relationships, like his father. What steps could be taken, and who could take them to help him right now? Who might notice his behavior? What resources does he have?

  • What are the multiple factors in Mike’s life that influence the ways he behaves when he finds out that King hit Kimmy?