Reports of teen dating violence are on the rise in New Jersey.

Studies show 25% of girls and 16% of boys have been physically or sexually abused by a partner before they turn 18.

According to Nicole Morella, the director of policy and education for the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence, there has been an increase in unhealthy relationship behavior since the start of the pandemic, in part because of isolation and anxiety issues.

She said teen dating physical and sexual violence may begin with and also include “emotionally putting their partner down, preventing them from seeing their friends, maybe even dictating how they spend their time outside of school, whether or not they work, whether or not they can participate in certain activities.”

Cell phone control

Morella said cell phones are also being used by some teens to control their boyfriend or girlfriend “whether it’s tracking who they are friends with on social media, or becoming jealous of somebody liking their girlfriend or boyfriend’s picture, constantly calling or texting them.”

Teenage girl bullied, texting
Highwaystarz-Photography, ThinkStock

She said those involved in dating violence can experience “feelings of being disconnected from their community, we certainly see signs of sometimes depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

“We also know when there is sexual abuse sometimes there’s even forcing their partner to become pregnant, and so that would also have long-term implications for the survivor," she said.

Talk to your kids

According to Jane Randel, the chair and co-founder of the group NO MORE, it’s crucial for parents to engage in dialogue with their kids about what is and is not healthy behavior in relationships.

“It may be while you’re making dinner, it may be while you’re driving them to a practice or a friend’s house, you know you have to be willing to stop what you’re doing and talk to them and listen,” Randel said.

“It is about discussing healthy relationships, trying to get to know what’s going on with their friends in a non-intrusive way.”

She stressed it’s important to begin to make these efforts when children are young, so they naturally will come to you when there’s an issue.

Stefano Lunardi

Less than desirable behavior

Randel said many movies and TV shows feature less-than-desirable behavior that may be imitated. With most teens carrying around a cell phone, there is easy and widespread access to pornography.

“What’s happening is they’re learning about relationships from that and that’s often quite abusive and quite violent,” she said.

Morella agreed it’s important for all parents, coaches, youth leaders and community members to “create spaces where we are talking about healthy relationships and we’re also talking about unhealthy and abusive relationships.”

She noted there are programs being presented in schools across the state “to help educate young people about the dynamics of an abusive or unhealthy relationship, while also hopefully lifting up and helping young people develop skills for healthy relationships.”

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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