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Teenage Dating Violence: Warning Signs & Safety Tips

As a self-defense instructor for women, teens, and children for the past 23 years as well as a former volunteer legal advocate for a local domestic violence shelter, it’s no surprise that I’ve seen my fair share of teenage dating violence. But in fact, like a lot of self-defense advocates, this is a subject that hits close to home.

I had been trained in martial arts for more than a decade when I hit a turning point and decided to transition into teaching dedicated self-defense skills — my sister was raped in college in her off-campus apartment. Sadly this crime was committed by a well-known acquaintance she thought she trusted.

Whether you yourself are a victim of violence or you’re concerned about a loved one, there’s something you can do to take a stand. Keep reading to learn some of the warning signs of teen violence as well as some teen dating violence safety tips.

Teen Dating Violence Statistics

According to a CDC Youth Behavior Survey conducted among high school students, 1 in 12 experienced both physical and sexual dating violence. Higher incidents were reported among teens who identify as LGBTQ+.

Why are so many teens engaging in this aggressive behavior? We live in a world where everything is online. Almost every teen has a cell phone, along with a social media profile. Unfortunately, this leads our young generation to base their self worth on how many “likes” or “followers” they get.

In fact, 28 percent of teens in a relationship were victimized by cyber dating abuse in the past year. Since a large portion of what our children and teens view online is unfiltered, they are becoming desensitized. Repeated exposure influences their mindset to formulate a “new normal.” This can also influence an entire culture to shift its way of thinking.

It used to be that teens were influenced by actions in their households. Constant exposure to digital technology has altered this dynamic. It’s easier than ever to abuse, hurt, and harass because you are never truly “disconnected” from external influences. This factor has driven many bullied teens to commit suicide.

More teens are struggling with self-esteem issues, which makes them susceptible to submitting to the pressures of sexting and risky “attention-grabbing” exposure online. It also makes them more susceptible to bullying and violence in their dating life.

Warning Signs of Teen Dating Violence

For bystanders, yelling, pushing, shoving, and bruising are all common signs of a violent relationship.

The more subtle signs that a relationship is heading in the wrong direction are not as obvious, or at least not right away. These include:

  • Progressive isolation from friends, family, and activities that were once routine and enjoyable.

  • Making uncharacteristic excuses as to why they may be extra early or very late.

  • Unexplained, sudden, or odd physical markings, especially in places where clothing normally covers.

Signs that a relationship may turn into something violent include the dating partner:

  • Insisting on approval of friends both in-person and online

  • Demanding passwords and/or changes passwords

  • Controlling your social media presence and/or altering your profile

  • Dictating personal style or clothing selections

  • Reading your texts and/or sending threatening texts

  • Routinely guilt tripping to coerce you into giving what they want (manipulation)

Teen Dating Safety Tips

The sooner a teen can take charge of their personal life and online profile, the better able they are to erect a firewall to protect and prevent this from ever happening in the first place. Teens need to set boundaries that strike a balance between real-life and online activity. If you find yourself in an abusive situation, the cycle needs to be broken immediately.

Take the following steps in order to prevent or put an end to teen dating violence:

Get Help Now

Are you a victim of teen dating violence? Speaking to a trusted adult such as parents and a school guidance counselor can help, but sometimes this isn’t an option. If this is the case with your situation, contact the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline 866-331-9474 or log on to their website at They can help you identify abuse, create a safety plan, and get help. If you suspect someone is being abused, they can help you support them.

Talk with Your Teen

If you know the abused teen, express your concern and point out specific reasons why. Provide options for them to seek proper help and input. Better yet, give them the phone number and website listed above. A trusted support system is very important. If you know the abuser, tell them that their behavior isn’t acceptable. Suggest that if they are having personal self-esteem issues, they should find a healthier way to deal with them.

Self Defense for Teen Dating Violence

Enrolling in a self-defense class, especially one that emphasizes practical, simple techniques is at the very least a great way to help teens build confidence, give them a better posture, and help them establish an effective “command presence.” In truly dangerous situations, it could just save a teen’s life.

I recommend finding a local class with a curriculum that uses the MUNIO self-defense keychain. What I like about MUNIO is that compared to tools like pepper spray, anyone can use it easily. It’s also stylish, legal in all 50 states, and doesn’t even look like a weapon, which means teens are more likely to carry it on them at all times, even to school.

My niece found herself in an abusive situation while in college. She had an ex-boyfriend stalk her while attending a dance. After taking a self-defense class from me, she acquired the basic skills necessary to feel more confident in standing up for herself. When this young man showed up and grabbed her by the arm against her will, she was able to deter the threat by using strong body language and commanding vocal presence.

Preventing Teen Dating Violence Early On

As a culture, we need to influence our next generation by taking an active approach to abuse prevention at a very young age. Teach children the dangers of online predators, regulate screen time, help them develop a positive self image, and set healthy boundaries. If we catch them before entering middle school, we can help save teens from being abused and becoming abusers.

Taking a Stand Against Teen Dating Violence

Unfortunately, teen dating violence is all around us and in a culture that’s increasingly desensitized to abuse thanks to social media bullying, so it’s more important than ever to be aware of the warning signs. If you suspect a teen in your life is in danger, or if you yourself are facing the threat of violence, please know there’s something you can do about it, and it starts with following the safety tips above.


Looking for more self-defense tips?

Watch our free 10-video series, “Simple Self-Defense Moves Everyone Should Know.

Are you a self-defense instructor?

Empower your students with real-life self-defense techniques using MUNIO, the leading safety keychain solution. Learn more about MUNIO instructor certification.


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