Study: Toxic Teen Relationships Can Have Lasting Health Consequences

The study linked teen dating violence with symptoms of depression in young women for up to six years after the relationship has ended.

Study: Toxic Teen Relationships Can Have Lasting Health Consequences

Photo: kieferpix, Adobe Stock

A new study shows teens who are in toxic and controlling relationships are at risk for mental and physical health problems years into the future.

The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, also found they are likely to repeat patterns of unhealthy and potentially dangerous intimate relationships.

“If an adolescent goes from one relationship to another, they are more likely to find themselves in the same situation in the future,” said study author Antonio Piolanti, a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute of Psychology at the University of Klagenfurt in Austria. “We have to try to break this cycle.”

Piolanti and his colleagues reviewed 38 articles from 23 unique studies conducted between 2004 and 2022 that looked at the effects of various teen dating violence, including sexual, physical, cyber, and psychological abuse.

The studies found individuals, most often females, who had been in troubled relationships during their teen years were more likely to start drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes and marijuana. The authors also said teen dating violence was “significantly associated with increased sexual risk behaviors, such as unprotected sex or sexual intercourse under the influence of alcohol.” Several of the reviewed studies also linked teen dating violence with symptoms of depression in young women for up to six years after the unhealthy relationship ended.

The study determined the overall prevalence of physical violence in toxic relationships was 20%. It also found psychological abuse, which includes verbal and nonverbal controlling behavior, was extremely common at around 88%. Psychological manipulation can be subtle and sometimes undetectable by an adolescent’s developing brain, according to Dr. Anisha Abraham, head of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s National in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Richard Chung, an adolescent medicine specialist at Duke Health in Durham, N.C., told NBC News that not all teens in violent relationships will suffer lasting negative consequences, but that “adolescence is a really fundamentally important time where trajectories are set in terms of where young people are going and how they experience the rest of adulthood.”

Chung recommends parents speak to children about healthy relationships prior to dating.

“There’s a natural default assumption to believe that you don’t have to have those conversations until your teen starts dating,” he said. “That’s probably too late.”

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence or abuse, here are some resources:

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About the Author


Amy is Campus Safety’s Executive Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

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