What Is Love believes teaching the next generation to love in a healthy abuse-free way is how we create a kinder future. #whatislove #teachlove

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 high schoolers, it usually refers to making out at parties or get-togethers. Kids hook up with people they’ve just met, casual acquaintances and even friends. This can also include touching, everything in between and intercourse. For most teens, there are no strings attached.

What can I do?
As a parent your instinct is to help your child in whatever way you can. This need to help can drive you to quickly react, but sometimes what feels like the right plan of action could stop the conversation before it begins.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when starting this conversation:
Listen and give support- When talking to your teen, be supportive and non-judgmental. Let the teen know that it’s not their fault and no one “deserves” to be treated in a mean way. If they do open up, it’s important to be a good listener. The teen may feel ashamed of what’s happening in their relationship. Many teens fear that trusted adults may overreact, blame them or be disappointed. Others worry that they won’t be believed, the relationship will be minimized or misunderstood. If they do come to you to talk, let it be on their terms.

Accept what your teen is telling you - Believe that they are being truthful. They may be reluctant to share their experiences and fear that no one will believe what they say. Showing skepticism or minimizing their feelings could make your teen hesitant to tell you when things are wrong and drive them closer to their abuser.

Show concern - Let your teen know that you are concerned for their safety by saying things like: “You don’t deserve to be treated like this;” “You deserve to be in a relationship where you are treated with respect” and “This is not your fault.” Point out that what’s happening isn’t “o.k.” “You deserve to have a kind, respectful and safe relationship”.

Talk about the behaviors, not the person - For example, instead of saying, “She is controlling” you could say, “I don’t like that she texts you to see where you are.” Remember that teens may still have strong feelings for this person. Also, talking badly about their dating partner could discourage them from asking for your help in the future.

Avoid ultimatums - For example, “You should break up with them right away”, or “I just can’t help you anymore”. Teens need to be truly ready to walk away from the relationship. If you force the decision, they may be tempted to return to their abusive partner because of unresolved feelings.

Decide on next steps together - Ask “what ‘next steps’ would you like to take and how can I support you?” About 75% of seventh graders report they are in relationships. Sixty percent of teens ages 14 to 20 have experienced dating abuse and about the same number say they have committed dating abuse. These first love experiences create the foundation for all their future relationships. Breaking up or leaving the relationship is the most dangerous time for teens experiencing abuse. It’s important to make sure they are supported and have a plan in place.

Would you like to learn more?
Contact us @ [email protected] to schedule a parent workshop.

What can parents do?

  • Learn the language. What terms are your teens using? What do these 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 hard to identify 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 on our school grounds. In a recent study, 75% of seventh-grade students reported they were dating 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 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.
  • Pressuring 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.
  • Severe physical injury that could result in death.

[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] Verbal or Emotional abuse:

  • 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?

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 fighting
  4. engage in risky sexual behavior
  5. think about suicide

Their 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 their 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, compared to 26% of heterosexual youth
  4. 23% reported sexual coercion, compared to 12% of heterosexual 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 a student to:

take a close look at what happened
identify who and how someone was harmed
take full responsibility for harm even if it wasn’t intended
learn how to heal in a safe way
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.

We believe this 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 Let’s Talk About Love researched curriculum is grounded in the 5(R) principles; (credited to Beverly Title, founder of Resolutionaries).


  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 contribute to the conversation
Working together to connect students to mental health resources

LBGTQ Community

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teens are at a greater risk of dating abuse than their heterosexual peers. Transgender teens are especially vulnerable. They also may experience distinctive barriers to seeking help due to fear of discrimination or bias. In one study,

  • 43% of LGBTQ teens reported experiencing physical dating violence, compared to 29% of heterosexual youth
  • 59% of LGBTQ teens reported emotional abuse compared to 46% of heterosexual youth
  • 37% reported digital abuse and harassment, compared to 25% of heterosexual youth
  • 23% reported sexual coercion, compared to 12% of heterosexual youth

It is especially important to find a counseling center with clinical staff who are trained in issues relevant to LGBTQ+ mental health--with full, robust training in best practices for Transgender (Non-Binary included) clients.

Get Help

Need to talk to someone? Get advice and information 24/7/365 from our trusted partners. They can help you if you are experiencing or participating in unhealthy or abusive behavior, or need advice for someone you love.

National resources

Get in touch with a peer counselor by texting “listen” to 741741. You will receive an immediate response from a peer counselor who will help you find solutions to your situation.

If you can’t or don’t want to talk to an advocate on the phone, offers a live and confidential chat service specifically for young adults.

When you call 1-866-331-9474, a peer counselor will first ask if you are in a safe place to talk. Once you are, they will ask you to explain your situation and provide support and education.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline  1-800-799-7233, provides expert support for anyone experiencing unhealthy or abusive behavior or seeking information about unhealthy dating.

For local Santa Barbara support services

Click here for English

Click here for Spanish

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.

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

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.


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.

The effects of teen dating violence on physical health, mental health, and educational outcomes is significant.

more likely to experience depression and anxiety symptoms

engage in unhealthy behaviors like using tobacco, drugs and alcohol

exhibit antisocial behaviors, skip school

“I want to make sure my daughter has access to this information at her school”.

You are not alone.
It is not your fault.

We can help you get connected

Text “hello” to 741741 to connect 24/7 to confidential kind support.

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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