Risk factors for teen dating violence

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Daphne King

Dating can be an exciting time as a teenager. They can go on their first date, or even experience a first kiss. However, some teens may not have the same positive experience—according to UCLA Health, one in every 10 teens experience dating violence. Dating violence, also known as intimate partner violence, can include aspects such as physical violence and emotional and verbal abuse. Some teens may be more at risk of experiencing dating violence than others due to certain risk factors.  

During Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (February), Daphne King, an assistant professor at George Mason University, stresses the importance of parents identifying potential risk factors and promoting healthy relationship dynamics with their children at an early age.  

“The sooner a parent is in intervening, the less likely their child is to experience the long-term detrimental effects of experiencing teen dating violence,” King said. 

Teen dating violence risk factors broadly fall into four categories: 

  • Sexual history, including:
    • Sexual activity before the age of 16  
    • History of experiencing sexual abuse 
  • Family background, including:
    • Minimal to nonexistent parental supervision
    • Exposure to interparental or family violence 
  • Poor self-regulation skills, including:
    • Low self-esteem 
    • Depression 
    • Anger management issues 
  • Social environment, including: 
    • Interaction with peers who also engage in teen dating violence 
    • Participating in risky behaviors such as alcohol and substance misuse 
    • Growing up in a community that normalizes or accepts violence 

More information about risk factors can be found in research by The National Institute of Justice. 

Youth who are exposed to teen dating violence, as either a victim or perpetrator, are more likely to continue to be victimized or perpetrate intimate partner violence later in their lives than youth who aren’t. King recommends that parents: 

  • Talk honestly about what physical, emotional, and sexual abuse can look like from a significant other
  • Know and recognize the signs of intimate partner violence and abuse 
  • Model healthy relationships for their teen 
  • Talk to other parents about teen dating violence to reduce the stigma

Teens and parents can visit loveisrespect.org or www.thatsnotcool.com for support and help. Additional resources: National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233 or text START to 88788. 

To speak to Dr. King, contact Michelle Thompson at 703-993-3485 or mthomp7@gmu.edu

About George Mason 

George Mason University, Virginia’s largest public research university, enrolls 39,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason has grown rapidly over the last half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. In 2022, Mason celebrates 50 years as an independent institution. Learn more at http://www.gmu.edu

About the College of Public Health 

The College of Public Health at George Mason University is the first and only College of Public Health in Virginia and a national leader in inclusive, interprofessional, public health research, education, and practice. The College is comprised of public health disciplines, health administration and policy, informatics, nursing, nutrition, and social work. The College offers a distinct array of degrees to support research and training of professionals dedicated to ensuring health and well-being for all. The College’s transdisciplinary research seeks to understand the many factors that influence the public’s health and well-being throughout the lifespan. Areas of focus include prevention and treatment of infectious and chronic diseases, inequalities and marginalized communities, environmental health and climate change, nutrition, violence, mental and behavioral health, informatics, and health technologies. With more than 500 partners, the College serves the community through research, practice, and clinical care with a focus on the social determinants of health and health equity.  

The College enrolls more than 1,900 undergraduate and 1,300 graduate students in our nationally-recognized programs, including 6 undergraduate degrees, 8 master’s degrees, and 5 doctoral degrees, and 6 certificate programs. Our graduates are uniquely prepared to thrive in an increasingly multicultural, multidisciplinary, community-focused public health landscape.