Teen Dating Violence Part 2: Violence in Disguise

Teen Dating Violence Part 2: Violence in Disguise

Medical Institute Science Department Staff

March 2018

Teen dating violence is an emerging, silent epidemic that is becoming more common among adolescents. Today’s adolescents are exposed to relationship violence at high rates6, with 33% of teens reporting some kind of abuse.1 When it comes to reporting violence, physical or sexual abuse in a dating relationship is much easier to recognize than emotional violence or mental abuse. It can be very challenging to recognize and/or report emotional abuse when not all abuse tactics are classified as criminal acts by law. Emotional or psychological violence is “abuse committed by a person subjecting or exposing another to a behavior that is psychologically harmful”.2 Emotional abuse can come in many forms that aren’t initially physical or identified as a potential health risk. Yet, sometimes the most dangerous things are those we cannot see. It is important to consider the role emotional abuse has on teens because the concept of healthy dating relationships has become more ambiguous.

Emotional violence can involve various behavioral tactics in an attempt to control another person. The abuse can involve some form of isolation, intimidation, and manipulation. Verbal threats, insults, and criticism can be used in combination to intimidate or humiliate victims of emotional abuse.  Manipulative tactics including charm, silent treatment, coercion, regression, and humiliation describe ways individuals may attempt to control their partner.5 A study using the Manipulation Tactics Scale (MTS) confirmed that such tactics are typically used to get the partner to stop unwanted behaviors.5 With the early onset age of dating in teens, their perception of dating norms may deem such tactics as harmless in relationships; but these tactics can progress to physical or sexual violence.

Current platforms for teens such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social networks are more accessible to teens through the use of cellphones and computers and have contributed to the prevalence of committing acts of dating aggression. Online surveys and interviews of teens in relationships have confirmed a large number of high-tech facilitated partner monitoring as well as the use of technology to spread rumors.1   Technology and the social network environment collectively can negatively mold teens into accepting such tactics and behaviors as typical relationship issues.

In revealing tactics of abuse, it is essential to understand a perpetrator’s motive for dating violence in order to protect the health of teens. Perpetrators of dating violence can seek to undermine the teen’s independence and isolate them from family, friends, and other support systems, also known as “relational aggression”.1  Controlling a social group or environment, revealing private information, and spreading false rumors can all contribute to isolating a partner in an effort to reduce the chances of the person leaving the relationship. The Emotional Abuse Questionnaire (EAQ) assessed emotional abuse on a 4 point frequency scale and concluded that degradation was positively correlated with isolation. Some developing teens, who are victims of isolation and devalued self-worth, may become dependent upon unhealthy relationships that could eventually result in risky behaviors as well as short and long term consequences.

Risky behaviors such as underage drinking, substance use/abuse, early onset of sexual activity, and disordered eating are contributing factors for teens resulting to or becoming a victim of violence. Such factors can negatively impact teen physical and psychological development. Family values, peers, and the media can also be deciding factors in how teens perceive healthy relationships and address emotional violence. Teen exposure to dating violence indicators, healthy family and peer guidance, and signs of healthy and unhealthy dating can work to prevent abuse in teen dating relationships.

In addition to risky behaviors, there can be “near-term”, long term, and irreversible consequences associated with teen dating violence. In near-term consequences, teens are susceptible to “reduced mental health, post-traumatic stress, lower self-esteem, decline in school achievement, increases in eating disorders and substance abuse”.1 Teens that are victims of abuse can resort to destructive approaches for dealing with depression. Those “negative moods and behaviors” can serve as precursors for more dangerous forms of abuse, can be reciprocated in later relationships, and can even result in suicide. Among teens aged 15-19, suicide rates have doubled for females and increased 31% for males.7 Some risk factors for emotional abuse also serve as risk factors for suicide including “isolation, aggressive tendencies, clinical depression, and unwillingness to seek help”8. The unfortunate reality is that teens can either be a victim or perpetrator of abuse. Risky behaviors and consequences associated with teen dating violence progressively work to compromise the health of teens as revealed through research.

Over time, more approaches such as behavioral checklists, surveys, inventories, and analytic reviews have given insight to confirm that emotional abuse can be as harmful as physical abuse. Understanding what emotional abuse can look like is essential to developing and maintaining healthy relationships among the developing teen population. Teens and adolescents can unknowingly fall victim to and carry out these harmful behaviors as they are less equipped to identify and address the various tactics associated with emotional abuse during this time of life. Recognizing the behavioral tactics and potential health risks of emotional abuse is important to the physical and psychological development of teens and adolescents before more serious types of relationship violence can occur which result in long-term consequences.



  1. Offenhauer, Priscilla, and Alice Buchalter. “Teen Dating Violence: A Literature Review and Annotated Bibliography.” Teen Dating Violence, July 2011, pp. 1–92., doi:https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/235368.pdf.
  2. Legal, Inc. US. “USLegal.” Psychological Abuse Law and Legal Definition | USLegal, Inc., definitions.uslegal.com/p/psychological-abuse/.
  3. Karakurt, Günnur, and Kristin E. Silver. “Emotional Abuse in Intimate Relationships: The Role of Gender and Age.” Violence and Victims, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3876290/.
  1. Cutter-Wilson, Elizabeth, and Tracy Richmond. “Understanding Teen Dating Violence: Practical Screening and Intervention Strategies for Pediatric and Adolescent Healthcare Providers.” Current Opinion in Pediatrics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3433035/.
  2. Vivolo-Kantor, Alana M. et al. “Relationship Characteristics Associated with Teen Dating Violence Perpetration.” Journal of aggression, maltreatment & trauma 25.9 (2016): 936–954. PMC. Web. 12 Jan. 2018.
  3. Hays, Danica G., et al. “A Phenomenological Investigation of Adolescent Dating Relationships and Dating Violence Counseling Interventions.” Professional Counselor 1.3 (2011): 222-233.
  4. QuickStats: Suicide Rates for Teens Aged 15–19 Years, by Sex — United States, 1975–2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:816.                                                                                      DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6630a6.
  1. “Violence Prevention.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 Oct. 2017, www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/riskprotectivefactors.html#_blank.