Talk with Us | Stand4Respect

What is teen dating abuse?

Teen dating abuse is a pattern of behaviors used by a teen to harm, threaten, intimidate or control the person they’re involved with. This can happen in serious or casual relationships. The behaviors happen during a relationship, but may also continue after the relationship has ended.

Teen dating abuse usually includes some combination of physical, emotional, sexual, technological abuse and stalking. These terms are further defined with examples below.

  • Physical forms of abuse may include hitting, punching, pinching, pushing, shoving, grabbing, slapping, kicking, choking, pulling hair, biting, throwing things, or arm twisting.
  • Emotional abuse involves the intentional infliction of emotional distress by threat, coercion or humiliation. Behaviors may include put-downs; name calling; intense jealousy; controlling activities, appearance or friendships; social sabotage; making threats to harm one’s dating partner or oneself.
  • Sexual abuse encompasses any unwanted sexual contact; it may occur between intimates, acquaintances or strangers. Behaviors range from unwanted touching through forced sex and may include behaviors like reproductive control and birth control sabotage.
  • Technological abuse includes behaviors enacted online, through tracking technologies, or through cellphones that are intended to harm, intimidate, monitor, coerce or control their target. Technological abuse can include, but is not limited to, repeated calls or text messages; non-consensual access to email or social networking sites; creating a false social media site, or impersonating the target on social media; texts or phone call logs; pressuring for, or disseminating private or embarrassing pictures, videos, or other personal information.
  • Stalking involves a repeat pattern of harassing or threatening tactics that are unwanted and cause the target of these behaviors to feel unsafe or afraid. Behaviors may include following,

Teen dating abuse (TDA) is a serious problem across the country and in Indiana. According to the CDC:

  • 1% of Indiana students surveyed in the 9-12th grades reported being hit, slapped, or physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend within the past 12 months (Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2011).
  • 1% of Indiana students surveyed in 9-12th grades report having been physically forced to have sexual intercourse against their will at some point in their lifetime (YRBS, 2011)

National studies examining the broader spectrum of harassment, emotional and tech forms of abuse have found:

  • 48% of students reported some experience of sexual harassment in the 2010-2011 school-year (AAUW, 2011).
  • In national studies as many as 50% of youth report experience of emotional abuse (Hickman, Jaycox & Aranoff, 2004).
  • 1 in 4 teens in a relationship say they have been called names, harassed or put down by their partner through cell phones and texting (Liz Claiborne, TRU, 2007).

How does it impact teens?

TDA impacts more than just teens’ social relationships. Both perpetrators and victims of TDA are at an increased risk of a broad range of physical, emotional, psychological, social, behavioral and academic problems.

  • Students who experienced physical violence had lower grades; 20% of these students had mostly D’s/F’s and only 6% had mostly A’s (Liz Claiborne, TRU, 2008).
  • Witnessing violence has been associated with decreased school attendance and academic performance (Eaton, Davis, Barrios, Brener and Noonan, 2007).
  • Teen victims of physical dating violence are more likely than their non-abused peers to smoke, use drugs, engage in unhealthy diet behaviors (taking diet pills or laxatives and vomiting to lose weight), engage in risky sexual behaviors, and attempt or consider suicide (Liz Claiborne, TRU, 2008).
  • Girls who experience relationship violence are up to 6 times more likely to become pregnant and more than 2 times as likely to report a sexually transmitted disease (Liz Claiborne, TRU, 2008).
  • Physically abused teens are 3 times more likely than non-abused peers to experience violence during college (Liz Claiborne, TRU, 2008).

TDA is destructive for our kids as individuals, and in the long run, it’s destructive to the safety, health, productivity, and social cohesion of our communities.

Adult Influence Matters

In a national study only about 25% of parents reported talking with their kids about dating relationships (GfK, 2013). We’ve talked with groups of parents across Indiana to try to understand why we aren’t having these conversations. The parents we talked with described the fears that make it hard for them to discuss relationships with their kids:

  • They didn’t know how—their parents didn’t have this conversation with them.
  • They didn’t feel like their opinions were relevant to their kids—they didn’t feel like they knew the “right lingo” and didn’t think that their kids would listen to them because they were “out of touch”.
  • They were afraid that they couldn’t keep their kids safe—even if they talked with their kids about healthy relationships, they didn’t think that their influence could help to keep them safe from abuse.

We spoke with hundreds of Indiana teens about the fears that parents identified, and they told us that they want to hear from their parents. Though they want to be trusted with the autonomy to work thrugh things for themselves, they also want guidance from their parents. Teen told us things like:

I would love it if my parents talked with me more. I’d love it if they asked me about my day.

I think that conversations about relationships should probably begin before preschool.

Though teens are working to develop their own identities and to distinguish themselves from their families in adolescence, they say that they do want support and information from adults. And research shows that when adults talk with kids about relationships, it helps to set them up to have great ones.

Keep reading for conversation starters and tips:

Setting the Stage

How can you set the stage to have great conversations with your kids about relationships? The Indiana teens that we spoke with told us many times that the key is to talk with, rather than at, the kids in your life. Talking with youth about their relationships doesn’t mean telling them what to do; this almost never works. The most effective strategy will lie in the sweet spot between representing your point of view and respecting their experience and perspective.

Helpful Strategies (Talking With)

These strategies strengthen connections between you and your teen and help you to sort out relationship issues together.

  • Negotiating to create your family’s rules
  • Having open conversations about values
  • Supporting your teen in troubleshooting relationship challenges
  • Providing empathetic support with statements like:
    • I’m really glad that you felt like you could talk with me about this situation
    • I’m not sure what the best answer is, but we can talk through the possibilities together
  • Understanding that teen relationships are serious and matter deeply to adolescents
  • Introducing the conversation and inviting opportunities to talk
  • Meeting your teen where they are, as the unique individual that they are
  • Accepting/working through the answers that you receive from your teen
  • Being mindful of listening as much as you talk
  • Promoting the positive relationship behaviors that you believe your child should give and receive

Not so helpful strategies (talking at)

These strategies reinforce separations between you and your teen and make it tougher for them to come to you.

  • Dealing in absolutes
  • Censoring ideas and shutting down discussion
  • Telling your teens what they have to do
  • Judging with any statements like:
    • I just don’t understand teens today….
    • He (or she) is a jerk and you just need to…
  • Minimizing the importance of the relationship
  • Interrogating–forcing the conversation when teens are busy, preoccupied, or just not into it
  • Comparing your teen to others—siblings, friends, or even yourself
  • Playing “gotcha”—inviting open conversation, then punishing your teen for answers that you weren’t prepared to hear
  • Monologue-ing
  • Sounding the alarm–focusing just on the negative behaviors that you think your teen should avoid

It can be challenging to loosen the reigns—especially when we care so much about the wellbeing of the teens in our lives. This advice doesn’t mean not having rules, it means creating safe space with your kids where honest conversations can happen. In our zeal to protect them, we may sometimes get it wrong. Luckily, this isn’t a one-time pass/fail type of conversation. Talking with young people about healthy relationships is a process that unfolds as they develop. You will have many conversations about feelings, fairness, respect, intimacy, consent, boundaries and break-ups.

When is the right time to start talking?

Now is probably a good time. Research shows that youth are practicing relationships early; in a study conducted by Robert Wood Johnson in 2012, 3 out of 4 8th grade students reported that they had already had a boyfriend or girlfriend. If we postpone these conversations until we think that our kids should be dating, we may miss the opportunity to influence their early relationships.

In talking with teens around Indiana, they encouraged adults to start talking with their kids about relationships when they were young—most recommended starting these conversations before kids start kindergarten. Talking with children about how to be a great friend helps them to develop relationship habits that will set them up to give and to expect respectful treatment when they start dating. For great conversation ideas for young people of all ages, check out the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s Chat About Love with Those You Love materials (available at: As the Washington State Coalition’s materials point out, “nothing has to be wrong for it to be the right time to talk”.

Conversation Starters

What might you talk about?

A good strategy is to ask open-ended relationship questions, and then to let the conversation unfold. By asking open questions, you give the kids in your life the opportunity to explore their relationships and you’re modeling respect for their point of view. Here are some examples:

  • What does respect mean to you?
  • What kind of treatment do you think you deserve in a friendship?
  • What does a respectful relationship mean to you?
    • What qualities would you expect to see there?
  • How do you show respect:
    • With your siblings or younger kids?
    • With adults at school?
    • While flirting?
    • On the bus?
    • On the playing field?
    • While having an argument?
    • On social media?
    • With your parents?
    • During a break-up?

    How do you expect respect to be shown to you in each of these scenarios?

  • Can you think of any couples in your community or in the media who you think have a respectful relationship?
    • What do you like about their relationship?
    • Is there anything that you don’t like about their relationship?
Tips & Resources
  • It’s probably a good idea to think through your answers to these questions and to talk with other adults who support your parenting to make sure that you share similar perspectives about your answers.
  • It’s good to be concrete. It’s sort of easy to talk about abstract ideals like respect, trust or fairness, but young people can get a better idea of how they think they should act and how they expect to be treated if you ask what respect looks like in real life scenarios.
  • These conversations can be undertaken casually, in the in-between times (during the commute, over a meal, after watching tv or a movie together).

Excellent additional conversation generating questions can be found at Alaska’s Talk Now, Talk Often campaign available at: and also from Start Strong’s Start Relating Before they Start Dating campaign:

If your kids clam up about their own relationships, you can also look for points of entry from youth culture. People are talking about relationships all over the place—in song lyrics, books, movies, video games, blogs and TV shows. You can use any of these pieces of youth culture as a point of entry into a conversation about what’s going on with relationships in their world. Attempting to judge or to censor the content of the media that kids are consuming falls into the “telling them what to do” category, and just doesn’t work. And, honestly, if we think back to the media that was popular in our teens (take a moment) the same problematic elements of sexism, control, casual intimacy and abuse were present.

Instead, adults can empower teens to become critical consumers of the media that surrounds them–to distinguish for themselves the messages that make sense from the nonsense. Start Strong (a national initiative designed to promote healthy relationships in order to prevent teen dating violence) sites have developed cool, relevant tools to help youth evaluate elements of their culture; here are some great examples:

The TruView guide asks similar sorts of questions about music videos:

  • Start Strong Idaho uses cultural cornerstones like the Twilight series and the Hunger Games to engage youth in discussions about teen relationships. Here’s a link to their Hunger Games gender empowerment lesson plan:

Another great option is Jane’s 20 questions, a game designed to foster trust, understanding and empathy among family members. The game was developed by I Am Jane, a project of Start Strong Oakland. Go play!

By introducing regular conversations about teen relationships, we can normalize these conversations and demonstrate to the youth in our lives that healthy relationships and their wellbeing matter to us.

Together, we can end domestic violence.

We believe that violence is preventable. When we come together, we create real change in the lives of individuals and in our communities. Join us in the movement to make Indiana a state that is safe, inclusive, and equitable for everyone.