Red Flags of Dating Abuse

By Barbara Bessette, Domestic Violence Preventionist

Dating abuse can often be thought of as an adult problem, but that is not always the case. According to the CDC one in 12 U.S. high school students experience physical dating abuse. That number also holds true for high school students who have experienced sexual dating abuse. We often want to blame the person in the relationship who is being abused. How many times have you heard someone say, “Why doesn’t she (or he) leave him (or her)?” or “If I were in that situation, I would never stay with someone who treats me like that.”? The problem is not the person being abused, but the abuser themselves. If you talk to anyone who has ever been in an abusive relationship, they will tell you that the relationship did not start out this way. The abuser was everything this person had wanted. They were romantic or attentive to their partner’s needs. This is all part of the “Cycle of Abuse,” the Honeymoon period, then the tension builds followed by explosion and then onto the Honeymoon period again. By the time the abused person knows what is going on, they are stuck in this cycle and it is hard to escape.

So, what do parents need to know and what should they look for?

Prevention is a key component in helping to decrease teen dating abuse and you can never start too early. Talk with your preteens about healthy boundaries and how to maintain healthy relationships. The CDC has developed resources to help communities focus on prevention efforts. Check out Dating Matters on the website. It includes multiple prevention components for 11–14 year olds. There are multiple strategies that help prevent intimate partner violence and teen dating abuse which include engaging men and boys as allies and bystander empowerment and education. We often overlook how communities can help to reduce teen dating abuse. Check out the CDC’s Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan: A Technical Package of Programs, Policies and Practices.

As your teens start dating make sure you are keeping open communication with them, you want them to know that you are always there for them no matter what. Talk to your teen about what a healthy relationship looks like. Here are some green flags (signs that a relationship is healthy):

+ The relationship is not moving too fast

+ The partner respects the girl/boyfriend’s decisions

+ The partner is not jealous or possessive

+ They both have their own lives

As a parent you need to also talk to your kids about red flags (warning signs) of relationships:

+ Extreme jealousy

+ Moving too quickly into a relationship

+ Isolation from family and friends

+ Telling someone what they can and cannot do

This is not an exhaustive list, but a good starting point for a conversation about the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.

As a parent, pay attention to signs of dating abuse:

+ Has your teen become withdrawn from their usual activities?

+ Has your teen become depressed?

+ Does your teen have unexplained bruises or marks?

If you see signs of abuse, what should you do next? First and foremost, talk with your teen. Make sure that you are open and honest with your concerns, but do not be critical. This can cause them to withdraw and not want to talk with you. Make sure they understand that you do not blame them for the abuse happening. Tell them that you understand it is the abuser’s fault.

Teens are at a point in their lives where they may not want to talk to you or feel like you will make them break up with their partner. Encourage your child to turn to a teacher, a mentor, a clergy leader, or another trusted adult if they need someone else to talk to.

The most important thing that a parent can have is knowledge when dealing with teen dating abuse. Often, we think of physical abuse when we think about dating abuse. But that is not the only kind of abuse. There is also:

+ Sexual abuse: behavior that coerces someone to do something sexually that they don’t want*

+ Emotional/verbal abuse: non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, isolation and humiliation*

+ Financial abuse: limit access to finances, using financial circumstances to control

+ Digital abuse: using technology to harass, stalk, or intimidate*

+ Stalking: someone watches, follows, or harasses repeatedly*


*For more information and expanded definitions, visit


When you understand these different forms, abuse can be easier to spot.


There are many resources that are available online from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Teens and parents anywhere in the country can call 866.331.9474 for help. You or your teen can

also text “START” to 88788. Together we can keep teens safe from abuse.

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