Written by Katie Schiralli, BA, MA, MSW Candidate, University of Toronto
And Krista Stephenson, Communications Coordinator, PREVNet
What is Teen Dating Violence?
Teen dating violence (TDV) is aggressive, threatening, and/or manipulative behaviour from a partner in a romantic or sexual relationship, and is more prevalent in Canada than many expect. 20% of Canadian teens report being victimized by physical dating violence1, 9% report sexual violence1, 35% report emotional and psychological violence2, and 10-30% of Canadian teens report being victimized by cyber dating violence2.
Perpetrating and being victimized by teen dating violence is related to negative short- and long-term outcomes, putting adolescents at risk for a wide number of physical, mental, and social health problems, including increased anxiety, depression, and suicidality. Involvement in teen dating violence during adolescence also puts youth at risk of involvement in future relationship violence.
Given the risks and frequency, TDV is a significant concern for parents, teachers and public health officials.
Who is Most at Risk of Experiencing Teen Dating Violence?
Systemic oppression is the intentional disadvantaging of groups of people based on their identity. This unfair treatment puts marginalized groups at a higher risk of being victimized by dating violence. These groups include racialized youth, youth living in poverty, Indigenous youth, and 2SLGBTQIA+ youth3.
Who is at Risk of Being Victimized by Dating Violence?
- Teens who grow up with a family history of aggression or abuse (child abuse, interparental violence)
- Teens who have been bullied/are being bullied
- Teens with few friends or friends who are aggressive or who use dating violence
- Teens with a physical or learning disability or who have special healthcare needs. These individuals may especially struggle to leave the relationships.
- New Canadians, refugees and English Language Learners
- Teens who use drugs
- 2SLGBTQIA+ youth
- At higher risk if they have not disclosed/do not wish to disclose their gender identity or sexual orientation
- Teens dating much older partners
Who is at Risk of Perpetrating Dating Violence?
- Teens who grow up with a family history of aggression (child abuse, interparental violence)
- Teens who are naturally aggressive
- Teens who have bullied others
- Teens who use drugs, especially alcohol
- Teens with friends who are aggressive, especially if the friends perpetrate violence in their own relationships
- Teens with an aggressive partner
What are the Signs of Potential Teen Dating Violence?
The most reliable way to identify TDV is if victimized individuals or witnesses to abuse disclose the violence themselves. Unfortunately, this does not occur very often, and so it is also important to directly ask.
Change in physical appearance
- Stops wearing makeup, or wears a lot more
- Starts wearing baggier clothes
- Passive or withdrawn state
- Frequent bruising
- Self-harming behaviours such as cutting, hair pulling
Teen’s dating relationship lacks balance
- Teen is constantly checking in with texts and sending photos to prove to partner where they are
- Teen makes excuses for partner’s behaviour
- Extreme jealousy is shown between teen and partner
- Teen is belittled by partner or called names
Teen’s behaviour with peers and in classroom changes
- Loss of friendships and isolation
- Teen is late or often misses class in school
- Teen seems anxious that partner may show up or know where they are
- Teen is unable to concentrate, is passive, compliant, or withdrawn
- Teen starts doing poorly in class
- Teen is involved in new disciplinary problems at school such as bullying or acting out
What Can You Do If You Suspect Teen Dating Violence?
Very few adolescents who experience TDV reach out to teachers, health care practitioners, or other adults who can help, but youth may be more likely to tell adults about their relationships if those adults have TDV training and knowledge. Learn how to respond to a dating violence disclosure here.
If you are being victimized by a dating partner, confide in a trusted adult, seek help from the resources below, or call 9-1-1 if you are in immediate danger.
If you are in immediate danger or fear for your safety, call 9-1-1
Visit the Need Help Now? section of our website for a list of organizations you can contact through phone, text, or email.
- Wincentak, K., Connolly, J., & Card, N. (2017). Youth Dating Violence: A meta-analytic review of prevalence rates. Psychology of Violence, 7(2), 224-241.
- Leen et al., 2013; Stonard et al., 2014