What Is Love teaches the next generation to love in a healthy abuse-free way to end the cycle of relationship violence.

prevention tools & resources

Unhealthy relationship behavior is hard to recognize and can be difficult to talk about, we hope these tools will help you to start this very important conversation.  Click on any of the sections below to learn more about relationship abuse and better understand how to support our youth. 

What is dating?

Get ready for a decidedly new dating scene that is very different from past generations.  And we, “the adults” don’t have the new vocabulary or experience to help teens navigate this complicated layered new landscape.

Dating starts earlier- It is not unusual for seventh-graders to say, “I don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, we are just hanging out”.  75% of 7th graders report they are dating. Often these relationships develop through texting or following social media posts.These first relationships usually don’t go beyond chatting, posing for pictures later posted on social media and requests to attend group outings.

The New “Talking” Phase- Teens today don’t plunge into dating without first going through the “talking to each other” phase. This typically means talking through texting, instant messaging, or face-timing. If they are “talking” there is an attraction and a desire to spend time together on-line or in person, whether alone or in groups.

Events are a Group Experience- Teens don’t have to be dating or talking to anyone to be dating, that’s because most kids go in large groups. The group eats dinner together, poses for pictures together and walks on the main street together. And teens who already have relationships or are “a thing” will go with that special person, but still as part of a group. 

Hooking Up is Common and Accepted- For teens a hook-up usually refers to making out at parties or group get-togethers. Teens hook up with people they’ve just met, casual acquaintances and even friends. A hook-up can mean anything f

What can parents do?

  • Learn the language. What terms are their teens using? What do those terms mean?
  • Talk to your teen about the importance of their relationship in their life. How is it balanced with other school and family activities?
  • Teach your teen signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships.

What is teen relationship abuse?

Emotional, physical, digital or sexual abuse by a person to harm, threaten, intimidate or control a dating partner. Most abuse starts out with small signals like jealousy, excessive texting or insisting on spending every moment together. Many teens mistake this for love. 

Relationship abuse is more common than many people think among students and io our school grounds. In a recent study, 75% of seventh-grade students reported having a boyfriend or girlfriend and 60% of dating teens ages 14 to 20 report experiencing physical, sexual or emotional dating violence. Up to 87% of this violence occurs on school grounds.

Relationship abuse is a pattern of coercive or controlling behaviors such as physical, sexual, digital, or emotional abuse by a current and former dating partner. 

Relationship abuse can start with small hard to identify behaviors that can vary in frequency and severity and occurs on a continuum, ranging from one episode that may have lasting impacts, to chronic and severe episodes over a period of months or years. 

Here are FOUR forms of violence What Is Love is working to bring awareness to.

[1] Physical abuse is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, or using another type of physical force.

  • Scratching, punching, biting, strangling or kicking.
  • Throwing something at you such as a phone, book, shoe or plate.
  • Pulling your hair.
  • Pushing or pulling you.
  • Grabbing your clothing.
  • Using a gun, knife, box cutter, bat, mace or other weapons.
  • Smacking your bottom without your permission or consent.
  • Forcing you to have sex or perform a sexual act.
  • Grabbing your face to make you look at them.
  • Grabbing you to prevent you from leaving or to force you to go somewhere.

[2] Sexual abuse is forcing or attempting to force a partner to take part in a sex act, sexual touching, or a non-physical sexual event (e.g., sexting) when the partner does not or cannot consent.

  • Unwanted kissing or touching.
  • Unwanted rough or violent sexual activity.
  • Rape or attempted rape.
  • Refusing to use condoms or restricting someone’s access to birth control.
  • Keeping someone from protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Sexual contact with someone who is very drunk, drugged, unconscious or otherwise unable to give a clear and informed “yes” or “no.”
  • Threatening someone into unwanted sexual activity.
  • Pressuring or forcing someone to have sex or perform sexual acts.
  • Using sexual insults toward someone.

[3] Digital abuse is the use of technologies such as texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. Often this behavior is a form of verbal or emotional abuse perpetrated online.

In a healthy relationship, all communication is respectful whether in person, online or by phone. It is never okay for someone to do or say anything that makes you feel bad, lowers your self-esteem or manipulates you. You may be experiencing digital abuse if your partner:

  • Tells you who you can or can’t be friends with on Facebook and other sites.
    Sends you negative, insulting or even threatening emails, Facebook messages, tweets, DMs or other messages online.
  • Uses sites like Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and others to keep constant tabs on you.
  • Puts you down in their status updates.
  • Sends you unwanted, explicit pictures and/or demands you send some in return.
  • Pressures you to send explicit video or sexts.
  • Steals or insists on being given your passwords.
  • Constantly texts you and makes you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone for fear that you will be punished.
  • Looks through your phone frequently, checks up on your pictures, texts and outgoing calls.
  • Tags you unkindly in pictures on Instagram, Tumblr, etc.
  • Uses any kind of technology (such as spyware or GPS in a car or on a phone) to monitor you
  • Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring or “checking in,” excessive texting, humiliation, intimidation, isolation or stalking.

[4] There are many behaviors that qualify as emotional or verbal abuse, including:

  • Calling you names and putting you down.
  • Yelling and screaming at you.
  • Intentionally embarrassing you in public.
  • Preventing you from seeing or talking with friends and family.
  • Telling you what to do and what to wear.
  • Damaging your property when they’re angry (throwing objects, punching walls, kicking doors, etc.)
  • Using online communities or cell phones to control, intimidate or humiliate you.
  • Blaming your actions for their abusive or unhealthy behavior.
  • Accusing you of cheating and often being jealous of your friends and family
  • Stalking you.
  • Threatening to commit suicide to keep you from breaking up with them.
  • Threatening to harm you, your pet or people you care about.
  • Lying or using false information to confuse or manipulate you.
  • Making you feel guilty or immature when you don’t consent to sexual activity.
  • Threatening to expose your secrets such as your sexual orientation or immigration status.
  • Starting rumors about you.

What are the consequences?

Our first love experiences are what we take with us into adulthood.

Unhealthy, abusive, or violent relationships can have severe consequences on a developing teen. 

Youth who experience relationship abuse are more likely to:

  1. experience higher rates of depression and anxiety
  2. engage in unhealthy behaviors, like using drugs and alcohol
  3. exhibit antisocial behaviors, like lying, theft, bullying or hitting
  4. engage in risky sexual behavior
  5. think about suicide

These first love experiences are what they take with them into adulthood.

LBGTQ teens are at a greater risk of relationship abuse.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens are at greater risk of dating abuse than thier heterosexual peers. Transgender teens are especially vulnerable. In one study:

  1. 43% of LBGTQ teens reported experiencing physical dating violence, compared to 29% of heterosexual youth
  2. 59% of LGBTQ teens reported emotional abuse, compare to 46% of heterosexual youth
  3. 37% reported digital abuse and harassment, compred to 26% of hererosexual youth
  4. 23% reported sexual coercion, compared to 12% of hereosexual youth.¹

Many LBGTQ youth do not always experience safety in predominantly heterosexual and cisgender support environments - and whose unique needs are sometimes overlooked. It is especially important to connect to counselors who are trained in issues relevant to LGBTQ+ mental health and best practices for Transgender and Non-Binary clients.

Dank, M, Lachman, P, Yahner, J and Zweif, JM. (2013) Dating Violence Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Why use a restorative justice approach?

Understanding unhealthy relationships through a restorative justice approach allows us to:

  • take a close look at what happened
  • who was harmed whether it was intended or not
  • how to take full responsibility
  • how to heal in a safe way, and 
  • how to connect with school and community resources with a warm hand off

This unique approach allows for someone experiencing dating abuse or someone who is participating in dating abuse to have a safe place to explore why it’s happening, the opportunity to ask for help, and the opportunity to practice healthy relationship skills.

Current approaches, strategies and laws have not yet achieved dating violence prevention success, and this abuse is directly impacting student mental health, academic achievement and school safety.

We believe a new approach using “Old Wisdom” is the key to breaking the generational cycle of relationship abuse and school-based programming is the best way to ensure successful delivery.

Each component of the What is LOVE programs is grounded in the 5(R) principles;

  1. Respect
  2. Responsibility
  3. Repair
  4. Relationships
  5. Reintegration. 

We offer opportunities for students, parents and staff to build and practice responsible, respectful, and healthy relationship skills by;

Gathering in a circle to discuss the harm caused by teen dating abuse
Talking one at a time while listening with empathy and respect
Making sure everyone has equal time to tell their story 
Working together to find a way to heal

Helpful Videos

Social Impact- Let’s do this!

Resources & Links





Print Materials & Posters

View materials created by What Is Love. You can click on any of the images to view. Contact us if you would like to have your own set of posters for your classrooms or workplace.

  • Dating Quiz - can be printed as a postcard or as 11x17 poster
  • Relationship Must-Haves can be printed as postcard or as 11x17 poster
  • Dating Abuse Infographic can be printed as 11x17 poster
  • Feel alone can be printed as 11x8.5 poster

All posters can be customized to include your school logo and local emergency hotlines.


Below are materials created by What Is Love. You can click the link below to view or download a PDF or contact us if you would like to have your own set of posters for your classrooms or workplace.

What Is Love PSA

The Let’s talk about Love PSA is a short and shareable video designed to start a conversation teens can lean into about relationships. Click here for our FREE activity outline.


help is available

Text “listen” to 741741 to connect 24/7 confidentially to a kind support counselor.

Call 866.331.9474 to speak with a trained LoveisRespect peer advocate for support for yourself or a loved one.

Call 800.799.7233 National Domestic Violence 24/7 hotline to talk to an expert for support for yourself or a loved one.

Call 911 If you are in immediate danger.


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