Study Explores Why Some Teen Boys Hit Their Girlfriends

October 23, 2008 11:40 AM
by Shannon Firth
The first qualitative study of environmental factors that incline adolescents toward dating violence shares its results.

Understanding Dating Violence

A recent study, reported by Science Daily, 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.”

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.”

Miller’s next project, which she has already begun, is to research Coaching Boys into Men, an organization that helps men provide support and guidance to the next generation. She has begun her own branch of the program in Sacramento, California.

Background: Statistics surrounding dating violence

According to Science Daily, researchers surveyed a group of undergraduates and found that “44.7 percent of participants experienced relationship violence either before or during college, including 42.1 percent who were victims of such violence and 17.1 percent of participants who reported perpetrating violence.”

Reference: Identifying dating violence; advice for teenagers; Youth Risk Behavior Survey

Related Topic: The Founders of TEAR tell their stories of abuse


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