Preventing Youth Dating Violence

What Caregivers Need to Know

How Caregivers Can Help

What You Need to Know

Middle and high school is a complex and challenging time for teens.

  • Puberty hormones cause changes in body and emotions.
  • The teenage brain can think in complex ways, yet decision making can be immature; immediate pleasure is weighed more heavily than delayed risk.
  • Teens are highly concerned about social status, relationships, and sex.
  • Teens may be exposed to drugs/alcohol.
  • Caregivers may not be aware of the signs that their teen may be experiencing dating violence or perpetrating dating violence.
  • Adolescents spend more unsupervised time with friends and peer groups than younger children. Aggression and abuse can become harder to notice, especially when the abuse occurs in places with no adult supervision, including online.

Perpetrating, experiencing, and witnessing aggression before adolescence is a strong predictor of YDV involvement.

  • Experiencing bullying and bullying others puts children at risk for involvement in dating violence during adolescence. Check in with your child and take the proper steps to keep them safe.
  • Witnessing caregivers’ use violence against each other puts children at risk of using violence in their own relationships.

Teen relationships tend to vary by stages of adolescence.

  • Romantic relationships are more common in older teens
  • Romantic relationships tend to be more serious in older teens
  • The reasons for conflict may be highly different in each relationship, and tend to vary by age. For instance, early adolescent relationships may be more concerned with having fun or balancing independence with time together, while later adolescent relationships may be more concerned with intimacy (Bravo, Connolly, & McIsaac, 2017).
  • Adolescent dating and sexual relationships may consist of behaviours that fall outside of “traditional” relationship norms, including casual sex, non-exclusive sexual relationships, and dating multiple partners (Manning, Longmore, Copp, & Giordano, 2014).

YDV is common and has consequences for all individuals involved.

  • YDV affects about 1 in 3 teens in a relationship. The severity and frequency of the violence varies widely on an individual basis. Both boys and girls can perpetrate and experience YDV.
  • The effects of YDV can be both immediate and long-lasting. Violent relationships can continue past adolescence and tend to escalate in severity in these cases.
  • YDV puts youth at risk for numerous physical, mental, and social health problems.

A teen may not feel comfortable talking to you about their relationship or dating violence.

  • They may be embarrassed or ashamed
  • They may fear your reaction, that you will be judgmental, disappointed in them, or angry
  • They may be afraid that telling an adult will make the problem worse, in particular, that they will be forced to break up with their partner even if they are not ready.

Conversations With Your Teen About Healthy Relationships, Sexuality, and Dating Violence

  • As caregivers, you are the first models of behaviour for your child. How you communicate with others demonstrates what is acceptable and unacceptable.
    • Research shows that witnessing caregivers’ use violence against each other puts children at risk of using or accepting violence in their own relationships
    • In contrast, caregivers who demonstrate constructive and non-violent means of communicating teach their children those behaviours
  • Provide a safe and communicative space for your child to talk about relationships and sex. Remember, a lot of this information is new to your child.
    • Talking to teens about their relationships, sex, and sexuality improves their future well-being and reduces their risk of unsafe sexual behaviours.
  • Talk with your child about healthy relationships. Make sure that they know violent behaviour is not normal or acceptable. Teach them about the types, signs, and impacts of YDV
    • These conversations should happen both before and during the time your child has romantic relationships.
    • You can start with our section on YDV for Youth.
  • Talk to your child about consent, boundaries, and their right to make decisions about their body. Your child needs to know that they have control over their body, decisions, and actions in a relationship. Your child also needs to understand that the same applies for their potential partners.
    • This should start at an early age, and is an ongoing process.
    • Teens need to know safe sex practices and understand that sexual activity is a personal decision and not proof of love or affection.
    • Teaching your child to be safe and aware of the risks of sexual behaviour does not mean that you are encouraging them to have sex.
    • Check out these videos about consent:
  • As caregivers, you are critical in teaching your children to respect others and communicate non-violently. These conversations should happen before and during the time your child starts to date and have romantic relationships. YDV can start as early as the beginning of grade 6.
  • Let your child know that they can come to you for help or advice. Emphasize that their safety is your primary concern. Learn more about how to respond if your child tells you they are involved in dating violence.
    • Teens may communicate with their friends and partners mostly over text or online messages. They need to know that they can come to you if they feel uncomfortable about what they are experiencing or reading online.
    • It is important to remember that relationships are highly important to teens and you need to listen to their relationship problems and issues to ensure they are safe and healthy.

Cyber Dating Violence

  • Aggression online is becoming more common in teen relationships.
  • Learning to recognize cyber dating violence is especially important, as teens may not be aware of appropriate online relationship behaviour and boundaries.
  • Having conversations with your children about the safe use of technology and staying safe online will help them identify what is healthy and not healthy in their online relationships.
  • Sending or receiving explicit pictures while underage is illegal in Canada, regardless if the acts are consensual or not.
  • As children age, adults are less likely to monitor what is happening online, and it is particularly important to have open and honest conversations with your child about safe use of the internet and cellphones.
    • You can look out for signs of cyber dating violence such as excessive messaging and calls to “check-in” for their partner.

Visit our Cyber Dating Violence section for more information.