Love is great. It’s pretty amazing when you find someone you’re excited to spend time with who wants to spend time with you, too. Dating, hanging out, texting, and just being together can make your life feel a lot more exciting.
But have you ever found yourself wondering whether everything is really okay in your relationship? It can be hard to know what’s normal and healthy and what’s not. You might even have asked yourself if what you are experiencing could be abuse, or if your own behavior is “over the line.”
Unfortunately, teen dating abuse is common. In fact, one in three teenagers experiences physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in a relationship. Abuse is always wrong, and being the target of abuse is scary and upsetting. It makes it more likely that you will have problems with drugs and alcohol, develop an eating disorder, try suicide, or experience more abuse in the future. However, many young people say they aren’t sure how to identify dating abuse or how to help someone in this situation.
If you’ve ever felt unsure about what’s going on between you and your boyfriend or girlfriend, keep reading. It’s really important to stay safe.
Red Flags and Warning Signs
“OMG, he keeps asking me for pics.” “She stole my Insta password and now she’s mad because she’s been reading all my DMs.” “We had the WORST fight and were screaming so bad at each other and throwing stuff, but we made up.”
Have you ever been part of behavior or conversations like this? If so, heads up: these are all red flags. There are lots of others, some of which you might not recognize as a problem. Here are some more danger signs to watch out for.
--Your partner spreads rumors about you or talks trash about you to others
--Your partner screams at you, calls you names, puts you down, or insults you
--Your partner damages objects when angry (smashes things, punches walls, etc.)
--Your partner pressures you, guilts you, or forces you into sexual activity
--Your partner refuses to use birth control when you ask them to
--Your partner blames you for his or her bad behavior
--Your partner threatens to hurt themselves because of things you do or don’t do
--Your partner threatens to turn friends against you, tell your secrets, or expose things about you
--Your partner is constantly jealous and doesn’t want you talking to or socializing with other friends
--Your partner shoves you, hits you, kicks you, grabs you, pinches you, throws stuff at you, etc.
--Your partner physically follows you or appears where not expected and makes you feel unsafe
--Your partner embarrasses you or humiliates you in front of other people
--Your partner always wants to know where you are
--Your partner keeps making you feel bad about yourself through their words and actions
--Your partner threatens you or pressures you into drug use, drinking, or other unsafe or illegal activities
--Your partner jokes about harming you, controlling you, or sexually assaulting you
--Your partner steals or demands your social media/email/phone passwords, or goes through your phone
--Your partner pressures you for explicit pics or for sexting, or sends you unwanted sexts or pics
Types of Abuse
Were you surprised by some of the items on this list? While most of us probably know that it’s not okay to hit or sexually assault a partner, other red flag behavior can be harder to recognize. Still, most of the above examples generally fit into one of these 5 general types of abuse: physical, emotional, sexual, digital, and stalking.
Physical abuse occurs when your partner hits, pushes, kicks, slaps, or otherwise violently touches you. Emotional abuse happens when your partner threatens you, insults you, shames and embarrasses you, or bullies you. Sexual abuse is when a dating partner forces you or intimidates you into any kind of sexual activity you do not want to do. Digital abuse occurs when someone you are dating uses electronics (cell phones, computers, the Internet) to try to harass you, bother you, control you, or snoop on you. And stalking is when someone watches, contacts, and follows you without your consent. These types are most commonly experienced by teens, but there are other kinds of abuse, too.
If you’re concerned that you or someone you know might be in a problem relationship, remember that you are not alone. Most teens have an adult in their life who makes them feel safe and who listens. It could be a family member, teacher, religious figure, coach, friend’s parent, or school counselor. If you’re struggling to come up with the right person, you may want to go to a friend first and see if they have ideas. Bring your concerns to this adult.
There are also national organizations with counselors ready to listen and help. Trained advocates who specialize in helping teens are available at loveisrespect. You can call them at 866-331-9474, text “loveis” to 22522, or chat with them live on their site. More help is available at The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233).
Remember, in an emergency where you feel physically unsafe, don’t hesitate to act. Call 911 or your local police department. If you think your relationship is becoming dangerous but aren’t sure what to do or aren’t ready to leave yet, make sure you have a safety plan.
These websites have more information about abuse and about healthy relationships. If you want to find out more about the way things ought to be, take a look.
By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida
Break the Cycle. (2014). Warning signs. Retrieved from http://www.breakthecycle.org/warning-signs
Break the Cycle. (2016). How common is dating abuse? Retrieved from http://www.breakthecycle.org/how-common-dating-abuse
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (n.d.) Dynamics of abuse. Retrieved from https://ncadv.org/dynamics-of-abuse
National Domestic Violence Hotline. (2016). Abuse defined. Retrieved from http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/