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Teen dating violence (TDV), which includes physical violence, sexual aggression, and psychological abuse, is a major public health concern in the United States. New forms of sexual harassment and avenues for TDV are emerging through the use of blogs, chat rooms, texting, sexting, and social networking sites, placing an increasing number of teens at risk of becoming victims of TDV. This chapter provides an overview of different forms of abuse, including terminology and prevalence, as well as screening for TDV and anticipatory guidance, risk and protective factors, consequences, prevention, and treatment.


While our attention to and understanding of TDV have increased rapidly over the previous 2 decades, how researchers, advocates, and practitioners label and define this form of abuse is far from settled. The debate over labels is not merely academic; what something is called can impact policy, funding, measurement, and programming. For example, the term we use for this chapter—TDV—could be considered limited to a specific age group (ie, teens) and to a specific form of abuse (ie, physical violence). Others have suggested that a more inclusive term, such as adolescent relationship abuse, incorporates a wider age range and multiple forms of abusive behavior (eg, physical violence, psychological abuse, sexual aggression, stalking, cyber abuse). Paralleling the differences in how TDV is labeled, there is a general lack of consistency in the timeframe used (eg, lifetime, past year, past month) and how it is measured (eg, current vs. recent partner), resulting in varying estimates of prevalence. Rates of reported victimization are generally higher than rates of perpetration. Moreover, context is rarely included in TDV measurement, resulting in potentially misleading findings related to rates by gender (see “Gender, Sexual Orientation, and Ethnicity,” below). Complicating matters, and specific to TDV, is the transient nature of adolescent relationships and the fact that what teens consider, label, and define as “dating” varies by context, time, and region (see “Screening for TDV and Discussing TDV with Adolescent Patients,” below).


Physical Abuse

Physical TDV is any form of abuse that is physical in nature, including acts such as biting, hair-pulling, slapping, strangling, punching, kicking, pushing, or use of a weapon. Threatening these behaviors could also fit within the definition of physical violence (note that, depending on the situation, threats may also be considered a form of psychological abuse). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s biannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) consistently finds that approximately 10% of teens report past-year physical TDV, with even higher rates in more recent YRBS surveys when only teens who have a history of dating are included. Research among high-risk youth—for instance, teens who misuse substances or those who are victims of or witnesses to family or community violence—often finds rates of physical TDV over 50%.

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