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Emotional Abuse in Teen Dating Relationships: What Every Parent Needs to Know
by Rachel G. Baldino, MSW, LCSW for

According to, studies show that as many as 96% of American teenagers say that they have been emotionally and/or psychologically abused by a dating partner.

In other words, almost ALL teens report that they have been emotionally or psychologically mistreated, harmed, stalked, manipulated, or pressured in some way by a dating partner who claimed to love them and to have their best interest at heart.

Sexual and Physical Abuse

Bear in mind that the umbrella term "sexual abuse" certainly includes rape, but it also includes unwanted sexual activity of any kind. This means that if a boy kisses, touches, or does anything sexual to a girl who has not clearly consented to that activity, he has sexually assaulted her.

In addition, if a girl has consumed alcohol or drugs and is not in any condition to give her consent, but the boy still proceeds to engage in any type of sexual activity with her, this also constitutes sexual abuse.

Physical abuse in the context of dating relationships includes punching, biting, slapping, stabbing, and any other method that one person can use to physically harm another with or without the aid of a weapon.

Once again, according to, "One recent national survey found that 1 in 11 high-school students said they had been hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year. 1 in 11 students also reported that they had been forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to."

Emotional and Psychological Abuse

When experts refer to teen dating abuse, they are not only talking about the most clear-cut examples of abuse, such as physical or sexual assault. They are also talking about more subtle-and, as it turns out, much more common-forms of psychological and/or emotional abuse, such as stalking, cyber-stalking, insulting, cursing at, yelling at, manipulating, controlling, humiliating, or making verbal threats of violence.

When boyfriends try to whittle away at their girlfriends' self-esteem by making cruel or manipulative remarks, or when they try to limit or control their girlfriends' activities, or when they try to dictate what their girlfriends can and cannot wear, which people their girlfriends can talk to-and which ones they can't- these are all additional forms of emotional abuse.

Know the Facts

It's important to realize that emotionally abusive partners often know exactly what they are doing, and exactly which buttons to push. They tend to seek out vulnerable, insecure individuals as dating partners, and at the beginning of their relationships they may even treat their vulnerable partners rather well.

If your normally cheerful teenage girl suddenly becomes quiet and depressed, consider asking about her dating relationship.

Often it is only later in their relationships that they start in with the mind games, the emotional manipulation, the cruelty, the insults, and all the other classic emotionally abusive behaviors.

There are many different kinds of emotional abuse, and emotional abuse can take place within the context of all sorts of dating relationships, ranging from casual dating situations to very serious, monogamous, long-term relationships.

According to, in March of 2006, Liz Claiborne, Inc. partnered with a research organization called Teenage Research, Unlimited (TRU) to study the extent of teen dating violence in today's world.

The findings of this study (which covered all forms of abuse, including emotional abuse), were alarming to say the least.

For instance, when it comes to one specific, ultra-controlling form of emotional abuse, the study results indicated that: "1 in 4 teens who have been in a serious relationship say their boyfriend or girlfriend has tried to prevent them from spending time with friends or family; the same number have been pressured to only spend time with their partner."

On a related note, extreme jealousy and possessiveness are very bad signs in a dating relationship.

For any teenage girls reading this article, if you have a boyfriend who acts extremely jealous if you so much as talk to another boy, you may be tempted to feel flattered by his jealousy.

But don't.

Extremely jealous boyfriends also tend to be very controlling and emotionally abusive. They want you all to themselves and they may even start trying to force you to cut back on the time you spend with friends and family members. They say they act this way because they "love you so much," when in fact the real reason they behave this way is to try to control your every move. They want you completely under their thumb. They may have deluded themselves into thinking that they love you, but what they are doing to you is not loving behavior.

Why is Emotional Abuse in Teen Relationships So Common, And What Can Be Done About It?

Sometimes, teenage boys or girls who witness their parents abusing and/or being abused by one another end up becoming perpetrators or victims of abuse in their own dating relationships, because they have come to believe that abusive behavior in intimate relationships is actually normal and acceptable.

Just like you, your teenagers deserve to be treated with the utmost love and respect by their dating partners.

We also live in a society that does not take teen dating abuse as seriously as it should. It is an ugly topic, and generally speaking, people do not like to spend a lot of time thinking about such troubling subjects.

Unfortunately, the more society tries to brush topics like teen dating abuse under the rug, the more validated abusers feel in behaving the way that they do. In other words, if no one is telling them to stop, and they are continuing to get away with their negative behavior, then what on earth would possibly motivate them to stop?

If you are a teenager who is currently being abused sexually, physically, psychologically, and/or emotionally, or if you aren't totally sure, but you think you may be in an abusive relationship, and if you have a trusted adult in your life, such as a parent, teacher, guidance counselor, mentor, or therapist, make it a point to talk to that person about what you are experiencing in your relationship.

If you don't feel that there is an adult you can safely open up to about what's going on in your relationship, then you may want to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE.

Similarly, if you are the parent of a teenager, and you suspect that your child may be being abused by her partner, emotionally or otherwise, then you need to open up the lines of communication immediately, and be prepared not only to ask some difficult questions, but to listen to some answers that may be very hard (but incredibly important) for you to hear. Then you need to be prepared to take every step necessary to ensure your child's safety and well-being.

For some truly excellent step-by-step tips about how to discuss this difficult topic with your teenager, and specific ways to keep her safe, please read this extremely helpful article about what parents need to know about teen dating abuse.

On a slightly different but equally important note, if you are the parent of a teenage boy who you fear may be abusing his girlfriend emotionally or otherwise, please consult this useful checklist about what parents can do to prevent youth violence.

Recommended Reading

How to Talk to Your Kids About Suicide

Joining a Gang: How to Help Kids Prevent It

How To Talk To A Teenage and Know That They are Listening


National Domestic Violence Hotline

What Do Parents Need To Know About Teen Dating Violence?

Safe Youth

Love Is Not Abuse

Abusive Relationships

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