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August 31, 2012

Many Teens in Intimate Relationships Are Abused by Their Partners

Timothy A. Roberts, MD, LCDR; Jonathan Klein, MD, MPH

Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, April 2003

Abuse in adolescent dating relationships is common, say researchers from the University of Rochester School of Medicine who examined abusive teen relationships and links to other risky behaviors.

Using data from a large national health study of adolescents between 11 and 21 years of age, researchers asked teens whether they had ever had an intimate partner who called them names, insulted them, treated them disrespectfully, swore at them, threatened them with violence, pushed or shoved them, or threw something at them that could hurt them. In the study, the teens also reported whether they used substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana in the last year. Teens answered questions about whether they had engaged in antisocial behavior, such as destroying property, stealing, lying to parents, or running away, during the past year. Teens also answered questions about their participation in violence, such as fighting, threatening someone with a weapon, or shooting or stabbing someone. The teens were also asked about symptoms of depression.

Both teen girls and boys reported similar rates of abuse by intimate partners; 21% of teen boys and 22% of teen girls said they were abused by intimate partners. Girls who had a history of abuse were significantly more likely to use substances, be depressed and suicidal, and participate in violent and antisocial behaviors. Boys who had a history of abuse were significantly more likely to practice antisocial and violent behavior and be depressed. 

What This Means to You: Abuse by an intimate partner is common among adolescent boys and girls and may increase a teen's risk for depression or participation in other risky behaviors. Signs of abuse by an intimate partner may include: unexplained bruises, broken bones, sprains, or marks; excessive guilt or shame for no apparent reason; secrecy or withdrawal from friends and family; and avoidance of school or social events with excuses that don't seem to make any sense. If your child is being abused, he or she needs your patience, love, and understanding. Talk to your child's doctor or a mental health professional about how to help your child recover from abuse and avoid risky behaviors.

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