Teen dating violence mirrors adult domestic violence in terms of it existing on a continuum of controlling behaviors. These behaviors range from verbal and emotional abuse, physical assault, to murder and rape. In addition, teen dating violence is seen by some as a stage in the intergenerational cycle of violence, linking witnessing or experiencing violence during childhood to perpetrating or experiencing intimate violence in adulthood. Abusive teen dating relationships, similar to adult domestic violence, generally exhibit a pattern, the major elements of which are:
- violence that affects people from all socio-economic, racial, and ethnic groups
- repeated violence that escalates
- violence that increases in severity the longer the relationship continues
- violence and abusive behaviors are interchanged with apologies and promises to change
- increased danger for the victim is when trying to terminate the relationship
- occurrence in heterosexual and gay and lesbian relationships.
Teen dating violence happens within the context of adolescent development, therefore, certain developmental aspects characteristic of adolescence are affected, differentiating it from abuse in adult relationships. Typically, the teen victim is isolated from his/her peers because of the controlling behavior of his/her partner. The following developmental tasks are interrupted because of this isolation:
- achieving new and mature relationships with peers of both sexes
- social role achievement
- emotional independence
- the ability to develop personal values and beliefs
- academic progress is often hindered.
Because teens lack experience with intimate relationships, those in abusive relationships often have difficulty defining abuse as problematic. Young people may perceive jealousy and controlling behavior as loving devotion.
Teens are reluctant to seek help from adults. They fear, rightly or wrongly, that if they tell someone about the abuse they will be seen as having done something wrong. They may also fear that newly won privileges of independence will be taken away.