More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
What teens need to know before their relationship becomes a date with danger
March 10, 2006
The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

For teens inexperienced in the dating world, the intensity of an abusive relationship can be mistaken for love.

One in three teens will experience an abusive relationship, but many cases go unreported, according to a February 2005 study conducted by Northbrook, Ill.,-based Teen Research Unlimited. Abusive relationships often aren't recognized by teens for what they are, some experts say. "The jealousy, controlling and isolation can feel like love," says Karen Loving-Bourland, counseling service manager for Women Escaping a Violent Environment in Sacramento. She warns that it's important for teens to understand that "jealousy has nothing to do with love. It's a sign of insecurity and possessiveness."

Dating violence shows up as physical, emotional or sexual abuse, and many teens are shocked when they realize that the traits of an abusive relationship sound a little too familiar. "I hear them say, 'Oh my God, that's so-and-so,' " says Jimena Vasquez, an attorney from Break the Cycle, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles, which works to educate teens about dating and domestic violence. The relationship might be their first one, so they don't have anything to compare it against, Vasquez says.

Although experts warn that dating violence can happen to a person of either gender or any sexual preference, girls and women in heterosexual relationships ages 16 to 24 are most likely to experience dating or domestic abuse, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

How to spot abuse in teenage relationships
Here are signs to watch for, which experts say indicate that a relationship may become abusive, for those in and outside of it.

What it looks like (if you're in it):

* He wants to spend an excessive amount of time alone with you and he encourages you to flake on your friends, ditch school or skip practice. It can seem like a romantic gesture, but it's not. One partner's insistence on being the sole focus of the other's time and attention is a key warning sign of abuse, as the victim is slowly isolated from family, friends and favorite activities, experts say.

* He scrutinizes every detail of your life, including your friends, your hangouts and even your wardrobe. His controlling attitude means your cell phone is constantly in use, since he's always checking up on you. "In the early stages it gets misread as, 'Well, gosh, they care about me so much, they care about every little thing I'm doing,' " says Linda Hoos, an attorney for Break the Cycle. But it's not a measure of his affection, Hoos says, it's a way to assert his control.

* Even if you've never so much as flirted with another guy since you started dating, he's always accusing you of cheating. He often scrolls through your cell phone, suspicious that you're chatting with other guys. Signs of extreme jealousy often are indicators of an abusive relationship, experts say.

* Your relationship's getting way too serious, way too fast. He claims he can't live without you and threatens to harm himself if you break up with him. He might also pressure you to have sex.

* He has unrealistic expectations about you and your relationship, and he criticizes you or makes you feel guilty if you can't achieve his idea of perfection. Experts say this often causes the victim to assume she's to blame for the faults in the relationship.

* If he has a history of being abusive in relationships, there's an increased chance that he'll abuse you. But what's important to watch for is his attitude about abuse - if he accepts it as a normal part of a relationship, or defends the use of violence by others, it's likely that he hasn't changed.

* Remember, any form of physical abuse isn't normal and shouldn't be tolerated.

What parents and friends should look for:

* She quits a favorite sport, hobby or other activity, and fills her new free time alone with her significant other. She cancels on friends or makes excuses for why she can't go out with them.

* Even in the few moments you can steal her away from her boyfriend, she's constantly checking in with him and panics when she can't. She's extremely nervous about upsetting him.

* She's easily startled and appears to be anxious or on edge at all times. Victims of an abusive relationship often look "like they're living in a battle zone, because essentially they are," says Carl Shubs, a private practice psychologist in Beverly Hills.

* If her boyfriend's erratic behavior is mentioned, she apologizes and makes excuses for him. Victims often rationalize the abuser's behavior, saying things like, "Well, (it) makes sense; if I had been home he wouldn't have gotten mad," says Karen Loving-Bourland, counseling service manager for Women Escaping a Violent Environment in Sacramento.

* Her boyfriend calls her at all hours of the night, and if she doesn't answer, he keeps calling, even at 3 o'clock in the morning.

* Look for any major changes in appearance or personality. If she's wearing different clothes or makeup, has gained or lost a significant amount of weight, or is suddenly introverted, she may be involved in an abusive relationship.

* Of course, look for physical signs of abuse - bruises that the victim may try to cover up with clothes or makeup.

Where to go for help:

* It's important to get a third party involved - especially if you're a friend of someone who's being abused. Experts urge you to go to a parent or a school counselor; don't try to tackle the problem on your own.

* lists resources for dealing with dating or domestic violence that are available in California.

* Another Web resource is Break the Cycle, which lists information about teen dating violence. Call (888) 988-TEEN to find out about the organization's free legal services.

* WEAVE has a 24-hour crisis line at (916) 920-2952, which is a support line that can be used for emergencies or for anyone going through dating or domestic abuse.


this is a really good article. I don't know how many times I have seen friends & other people be in these relationships and later on say that he was the most controlling guy and made her feel really insecure about herself. which is really too bad, considering that from the outside things can looks so good...



My 15 year old is struggling to end an abusive relationship.
He is emotionally beaten down by his ex girlfriend.
They dated for over a year and it was chaos.
They are still communicating on the internet almost every day.

She tortures him with promises of reckless sex with new acquaintances.
She tries to get him to do outrageous things for her.
She constantly accuses him of things she herself does.
Just constant verbal and emotional beatings.

I didn't know the extent of this situation until he did something
reckless, and I read his MSN.

That is when I found out how damaged he is.
He has no one to be friends with. I suppose it makes things harder
for him to completely break off the toxic relationship he has with this girl.

I cannot get him to consult a therapist.
I had someone from Oolagen come over several months ago.
He refused to talk.
Dr. Baxter, I remember you mentioning that you deal with teens.
How would you suggest I get my son to accept help?

What wording might be successful in helping him understand that it would
help him?

Also, I read the Highly Sensitive Child, and I know he is.
The approach in therapy is different.

I myself am looking for therapy in Toronto.
I can't find anyone covered by OHIP that knows about this personality
I am discouraged at not knowing what to do for my son.

So, what do you think?
From what I read, my son is so used to be rejected and mistreated by
his 'friends', he keeps asking if he is welcomed, if he's a bother, if it's O.K. to talk to him...
He feels worthless.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Vi, I do know that OHIP-covered mental health resources in Ontario are almost non-existent these days. However, I will email you the name of an excellent therapist in the Toronto area - perhaps she would have some suggestions for you.


Great article Doc, it is sad to know teens experience violence. I hope in the future we have more resources for teens in relationships that are abusive.
Hi Vi.

It is a tough one because what ever you do could be interrpreted as 'being nosey' or 'interfering'. (my mother and I had similar issues when I was growing up) all I wanted to say was that I really do hope that the contact David gave you will help, and I wish you all the best.


Vi, I do hope you've been able to find some help for your suffering son. It must be terrible for him, and for you, to have these things happening. Therapy can help him so much if he can come to see it as a reach for success rather than an admission of failure. Good luck to you both!
great and very interesting post i find it facinating really because wel all adults seem to think that we are not likely to fall into a abusive relationship because either they brought us up better than that or that all kids are good now a day and that the nicest guy is alway s the one that will probably beet someone but parents think he is soo charming and stuff witch pushes you to stay with him cause who would believe you he is just so nice and kind
yours trully ashley
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