Public health in focus with Dean Melissa Perry: teen dating violence awareness

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Daphne King, EdD, assistant professor in the Department of Social Work, wants to use Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (February) to continue bringing awareness to intimate partner violence in young people. Dean Melissa Perry sat down with King to learn more about teen dating violence, prevalence, warning signs, and protective factors.

Watch the video or read the synopsis below.

Tell us about teen dating violence and how prevalent is it in the United States, as far as you know?

So when you look at data from surveys from the American Psychological Association, the CDC, as well as the Teen Youth Behavior Survey, it shows that roughly about 19% of students or youth experience dating violence in their relationships. There isn't any significant data to show any disparity across ethnicity or racial lines. So really, all teens, regardless of their backgrounds, are experiencing some form of dating violence for those who are engaged in dating relationships.

My bet is that a number of people seeing this are going to be surprised by those numbers. Can you help us understand that are some signs that one should look for to understand that this is happening?

So with the warning signs, they tend to also look pretty similar to warning signs for other at risk behaviors or for other types of mental health concerns. So things like withdrawing or isolating from friends, unexplained bruises or not, you know, engaging with family and friends, showing signs of depression. And those are all signs or symptoms for things like depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation.

So really, parents being aware of with their teens or adolescents, you know, kind of baseline or typical behaviors so they can recognize when some of these things are occurring and they are not the typical for their teen’s behavior.

That sounds like some really important warning signs, even though very subtle. How can parents and other adults be involved in prevention and supporting teens who might be in this situation?

You know, it may be a little surprising for some, but parental involvement is the primary protective factor. And I know sometimes when I talk to parents and teens in practice, sometimes parents are a little bit surprised that their involvement in their teen’s life can be such a huge protective factor, but really engaging and having those conversations, knowing what's happening with your teen, knowing who their friends are, and just having organic, honest conversations is a real protective factor for teens.

I want to ask you about what should teens know more about this? What can they do to prevent it? What would you like the teens to be aware of?

You know, teens really should, you know, understand and have some knowledge of what a healthy relationship looks like.  And that does go back again to parental involvement and parents modeling for teens.

What a healthy relationship looks like in their own relationships, family interactions, modeling that mutual respect and trust. I think teens who understand that, you know, their bodies are their own and that they have a right to say no. They have a right to not engage in activities that make them uncomfortable.

I think teens should also recognize, you know, some of the signs of someone that may begin to perpetrate dating violence or domestic violence against them. And one of the things that teens are not always aware of is when someone is constantly tracking them on social media or wanting to have access to them all the time via text message. In some instances, you know, some teens may think that that's cute, that the person is showing them attention, but they have to understand when it crosses that line into the person is, you know, really trying to control you and control your movements.


There are many resources available if you or someone you know is being abused. Talk to a trusted adult or visit or  for support and help. Additional resource: National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233 or text START to 88788

Dr. Daphne King is an assistant professor and Master of Social Work online program director in the Social Work Department of George Mason University’s College of Public Health. King’s research interests are self-esteem issues in teens and adolescents, mental health concerns and treatment modalities for women of color, specifically African-American women, and the impact engagement in Christianity or spiritual practices have on self-esteem. King is an expert in treating teens and adolescents with self-esteem issues and depression and has facilitated numerous clinical and psychoeducational groups on self-esteem issues for teens.

To speak to Dr. King, contact Michelle Thompson at 703-993-3485 or