High school is a time when many adolescents begin to explore the world of dating. These first romantic relationships are developmentally significant as they can help adolescents build the interpersonal and resilience skills needed to navigate romantic relationships throughout their lives.
However, not all teen dating relationships are healthy, carrying consequences that last long into adulthood.
In 2021, the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) found that 8.5 percent of teens who reported dating someone within the past year had experienced physical violence, defined as being hit, slammed into something, or injured with an object or weapon by someone you were dating or going out with. And 9.7 percent also reported being the victim of sexual violence, a category that includes forcing someone to take part in sexual acts (e.g., kissing, touching, sexual intercourse) when the person does not want to.1
Physical and sexual violence are two of four categories of teen dating violence defined by the CDC. The other two are psychological abuse, which includes the use of verbal and nonverbal communication with the intent to cause emotional harm or exert control over someone, and stalking, which is a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety.2
Teen dating violence affects teens and communities in a variety of ways. Teens who are victims of dating violence are at a higher risk of substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors, and suicide. The trauma that results from dating violence can leave emotional scars, shaping future relationships.
YRBS data suggest that there are gender differences in how different groups experience and perpetrate dating violence. Teen boys, for example, are more likely than girls to commit sexual violence, while teen girls are more likely than boys to use psychological forms of dating violence.3 Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ+) youth are more likely to experience more forms of dating violence than heterosexual youth.4
So, what can Title V Agencies do to identify, address, and prevent teen dating violence in their communities? Begin by asking these four questions:
1. What laws and policies are relevant to teen dating violence prevention in your state?
Violence prevention programs have to be aligned with teen safety policies already in place in your community. Begin by analyzing current state legislation and policies related to teen dating violence prevention or intimate partner violence. Then, coordinate and mobilize partners to support the development of teen dating violence prevention policies and laws.
2. What data do you have?
Use available data sets, including the YRBS and any local health surveys, to understand the scope of the issue in your community. Also look to coordinate your data gathering with other health, safety, and youth organizations and agencies. This can promote a more comprehensive understanding of teen dating violence, while facilitating the development of data-informed interventions across multiple partners.
Once you know what data you have—as well as what questions you want answered—work with epidemiologists to develop strategies for the surveillance of teen dating violence, including assessment of the social climate in schools and communities.
3. What evidence-based prevention strategies and approaches can you call upon?
A number of proven strategies for preventing teen dating violence already exist. Teen health staff and prevention practitioners can take advantage of this technical package of programs, policies, and practices from the CDC. Community agencies and partners can use this resource to find programs that fit their audience and context.
4. Where are you providing technical assistance?
Policymakers, educators, families, and teens all have a role to play in preventing teen dating violence. Reach out to community providers who interact with teens—including law enforcement officers, teachers, behavioral health service providers, after-school program providers, and coaches—and teach them how to recognize the signs of teen dating violence. Offer them advice for what to do if they suspect an adolescent they know is either the victim or perpetrator of dating violence. Once they know about the issue—and feel empowered to act—these groups can become your trusted partners in prevention.
Staff at Title V Agencies may look to Children’s Safety Now Alliance’s Teen Dating Violence Prevention factsheet for guidance on the issue. This factsheet contains information on the prevalence of teen dating violence, risk and protective factors, advice for prevention practitioners, and a comprehensive list of evidence-based prevention strategies, approaches, and programs.
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.). Youth online: High school YRBS: United States 2021 results. https://nccd.cdc.gov/Youthonline/App/Results.aspx
2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.) Injury prevention & control: Preventing teen dating violence. https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/dating-violence/index.html
3Taylor, B. G., & Mumford, E. A. (2016). A national descriptive portrait of adolescent relationship abuse: Results from the National Survey on Teen Relationships and Intimate Violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 31(6), 963–988.
4 Dank, M., Lachman, P., Zweig, J. M., & Yahner, J. (2014). Dating violence experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(5), 846–857. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23861097 7; Norris, A. L., & Orchowski, L. M. (2020). Peer victimization of sexual minority and transgender youth: A cross-sectional study of high school students. Psychology of Violence, 10(2), 201–211.