Family and Relationships

teen dating violence
Stephen Chernin/AP

Rihanna Case Spotlights Dating Violence—Is Your Daughter at Risk?

March 19, 2009 12:01 PM
by Shannon Firth
Would you recognize the signs of an abusive relationship? Learn how to talk to your teen about dating violence.

Addressing Teen Dating Violence

Earlier this month, Chris Brown was indicted for allegedly beating up his pop star girlfriend Rihanna. Police said he “pummeled Rihanna repeatedly in the face, arms, and even bit her.” Rihanna refused a restraining order and is still dating Brown, though recent reports suggest that they are taking a break. Fox reported that after the proceedings Rihanna’s lawyer told Brown, “Rihanna wants this to be wrapped up as quickly as you do.”

When teenagers answered an online survey earlier this month on the Web Site Pangea Pulse, cited by The Tampa Tribune, 60 percent said Rihanna should break up with Chris, while 24 percent said “they should try to work it out” and another 16 percent said “she must have done something wrong.” One respondent wrote, “Maybe Chris was kinda partying and maybe he didn’t know what he was doing. But IDK [Internet speak for I don’t know] I still like him and I feel kinda bad for him. I’m sorry but, IDK.” 

To reiterate, 16 percent of those polled blame Rihanna. Disturbing isn’t it? How can parents know whether their own daughters are susceptible to abusive relationships? Some signs of abuse are less obvious than one might think. And if a parent does see a red flag, would he or she know how to make the abuse stop?

The members of TEAR, Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships, are more familiar than most with the signs of an abusive relationship. They shared their own stories with ABC. Carrie—no last name given—told ABC that her boyfriend “wouldn’t let me smile in class.” She explained, “He felt like … it was a way of me flirting with boys.” Another teenager, Laura, said her boyfriend controlled what she ate, what she wore and whom she talked to: “It was just me and him alone all the time.”
Other studies looked for commonalities among the victims, instead of the abusers. The 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Study, which surveyed adolescent girls in 9th through 12th grades, found that those who reported feeling emotional distress or suicidal thoughts, or who engaged in physical fights, unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners, were more likely to be victims of dating violence. Black and Hispanic teens were also more likely to be victims of dating violence.

A 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Study found that 1 in 11 adolescents, both male and female, reported being victims of dating abuse. While most risk factors were the same across genders, poor body image more strongly predicted violence in females, while illicit drug use was more common among adolescent boys who abused their girlfriends. Dr. Saba Masho, lead researcher of the study, said, “It is imperative that counselors and care providers are aware of the gender differences in the predictors of physical dating violence in adolescents.”

Related Topic: Why do boys hit girls?

A recent study, reported by ScienceDaily, explores the environmental influences that predispose adolescent boys toward dating violence. Elizabeth Reed, a Duke University postdoctoral fellow and the primary author of the study, says the study looks beyond the behaviors of the individual and examines situational factors. Reed and Elizabeth Miller, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California-Davis, interviewed 19 adolescent boys aged 14 to 20 enrolled in correctional programs for dating violence.

Respondents most commonly touched on “problematic home environments, inadequate support at school, community contexts characterized by violence and peer interactions that encourage the sexual maltreatment of girls.” According to Miller, intervention needs to be tailored to the problem on a broader scale. Classroom discussions aren’t enough, especially since many abusers and victims drop out of school. Real progress, Miller says, could be made by strengthening family and community support structures.

In addition to problems at home and in school, previous studies have shown that teenage boys who play sports are more prone to dating violence. However, as Michael J. Merten, a writer for Adolescence, explains, “In actuality, athletic involvement is a complex variable … [i]t may be that only some of the characteristics of athletic involvement are associated with the acceptability of violence.”

Reference: “A Parent's Guide to Teen Dating Violence”


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