The NCSL Blog


By Kate Blackman

In addition to the traditional exchange of gifts, flowers or chocolate this Valentine’s Day, teens are being encouraged to keep their relationships healthy and free from abuse.

Healthy relationships are the focus of Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month throughout February. 

While it may be hard for many adults to imagine teen relationships as violent, at least 10 percent of adolescents reported experiencing physical dating violence at least once in the previous 12 months, according to a 2013 survey by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

A similar percentage experienced sexual dating violence at least once in the previous 12 months, according to the same survey. In addition, a 2014 survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reported that 17 percent of teens felt pressure to go past their personal sexual boundaries. 

Teen dating violence is not isolated to certain groups, and similar to adult relationships, can occur regardless of sex, race, income or background. 

However, this type of violence is preventable. Education about healthy relationships, which includes programs that address changing norms, problem-solving skills and risk behaviors, is one effective strategy initiated by a number of states. 

Many states integrate healthy relationship or violence prevention education into their existing health education programs—at least 19 states have laws that urge or require school districts to establish similar plans.  Some states also require schools to develop policies related to dating violence and other school violence.

States are focusing on prevention with teens because research shows that all forms of dating violence can have significant lifelong repercussions.

Teens who experience dating violence are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, engage in unhealthy behaviors such as experimenting with tobacco, drugs and alcohol, and have thoughts about suicide, according to the CDC. The mental and physical health consequences can extend into adulthood, and unhealthy relationships in adolescence also can create a cycle of abusive relationships.   

Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month activities seek to provide youth and adults with education and resources related to healthy relationships and preventing teen dating violence. A number of resources are also available for youth-serving organizations and communities. 

The CDC is offering educational webinars throughout February and its Dating Matters initiative provides teen dating violence prevention resources and training for adults who work closely with teens.   

Kate Blackman covers adolescent health and public health issues for NCSL. Email Kate.



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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.