Aproximately 10 percent of adolescents nationwide reported being the victim of physical violence at the hands of a romantic partner during the previous year. Between two and three in 10 reported being verbally or psychologically abused in the previous year. In South Carolina, for example, nearly 8 percent of adolescents reported being physically violent to a romantic partner. Interestingly, the rates of reported victimization versus perpetration in the state were similar for boys and girls.
Studies found that girls and boys perpetrate the same frequency of physical aggression in romantic relationships. This finding was at odds with what practitioners...said they encounter in their professional experience. Most of the practitioners in attendance said that they primarily see female victims.
So what is the reality? The complex nature of this phenomenon is not fully understood. Those in the field have to rely on an adult framework to examine the problem of teen dating violence.
However, we (the authors) find that this adult framework does not take into account key differences between adolescent and adult romantic relationships. And so, to help further the discussion, we offer in this article a gender-based analysis of teen dating violence with a developmental perspective
Victims and Perpetrators: What the Research Says
In 2001-2005, Peggy Giordano and her colleagues at Bowling Green State University interviewed more than 1,300 seventh, ninth and 11th graders in Toledo, Ohio. More than half of the girls in physically aggressive relationships said both they and their dating partner committed aggressive acts during the relationship. About a third of the girls said they were the sole perpetrators, and 13 percent reported that they were the sole victims. Almost half of the boys in physically aggressive relationships reported mutual aggression, nearly half reported they were the sole victim, and 6 percent reported that they were the sole perpetrator.
Editor's note: Do you think the boys lied?
Who Perpetrates Teen Dating Violence?
Studies find there is mutual physical aggression by girls and boys in romantic relationships. However, when it comes to motivations for using violence and the consequences of being a victim of teen dating violence, the differences between the sexes are pronounced. Girls also commonly report self-defense as a motivating factor, and boys commonly cite the need to exert control. Boys are also more likely to react with laughter when their partner is physically aggressive. Girls experiencing teen dating violence are more likely than boys to suffer long-term negative behavioral and health consequences, including suicide attempts, depression, cigarette smoking and marijuana use.
Editor's note: One would not think self defense would constitute violence, but violence is violence presumably...
Applying Adult Perspectives to Teen Dating Violence
Why do teenagers commit violence against each other in romantic relationships? Practitioners and researchers in the field tend to apply an adult intimate partner violence framework when examining the problem of teen dating violence.
A split currently exists, however, among experts in the adult intimate partner violence arena.
- Some experts hold that men and women are mutually combative and that this behavior should be seen as part of a larger pattern of family conflict.
- Another group of experts holds that men generally perpetrate serious intimate partner violence against women. They contend that men in patriarchal societies use violence to exert and maintain power and control over women.
- We believe, however, that applying either of these adult perspectives to adolescents is problematic. Although both views of adult intimate partner violence can help inform our understanding of teen dating violence, it is important to consider how adolescent romantic relationships differ from adult romantic relationships in several key areas.
One difference between adolescent and adult relationships is the absence of elements traditionally associated with greater male power in adult relationships. Adolescent girls are not typically dependent on romantic partners for financial stability, and they are less likely to have children to provide for and protect.
It is interesting to note that adults who perpetrate violence against family members often see themselves as powerless in their relationships. This dynamic has yet to be adequately explored among teen dating partners.
Lack of Relationship Experience
A second key factor that distinguishes violence in adult relationships from violence in adolescent relationships is the lack of experience teens have in negotiating romantic relationships. Inexperience in communicating and relating to a romantic partner may lead to the use of poor coping strategies, including verbal and physical aggression. A teen who has difficulty expressing himself or herself may turn to aggressive behaviors (sometimes in play) to show affection, frustration or jealousy.
As adolescents develop into young adults, they become more realistic and less idealistic about romantic relationships. They have a greater capacity for closeness and intimacy. Holding idealistic beliefs about romantic relationships can lead to disillusionment and ineffective coping mechanisms when conflict emerges. It also seems reasonable to expect that physical aggression may be more common when adolescents have not fully developed their capacity for intimacy, including their ability to communicate.
The Influence of Peers
We would be remiss to try to understand teen behavior and not consider the profound influence of friends. Peers exert more influence on each other during their adolescent years than at any other time.
Not only are friends more influential in adolescence than in adulthood, but they are also more likely to be "on the scene" and a key element in a couple's social life. In fact, roughly half of adolescent dating violence occurs when a third party is present. Relationship dynamics often play out in a very public way because teens spend a large portion of their time in school and in groups. For various reasons, a boyfriend or girlfriend may act very differently when in the presence of peers, a behavior viewed by adolescents as characteristic of an unhealthy relationship. For example, boys in one focus group study said that if a girl hit them in front of their friends, they would need to hit her back to "save face.
Conflict over how much time is spent with each other versus with friends, jealousies stemming from too much time spent with a friend of the opposite sex, and new romantic possibilities are all part of the social fabric of adolescence. Although "normal" from a developmental perspective, navigating such issues can cause conflict and, for some adolescents, lead to aggressive responses and problematic coping strategies, such as stalking, psychological or verbal abuse, and efforts to gain control.
Editors note: It looks like a adults act like they are kids!
Where Do We Go From Here?
Adult relationships differ substantially from adolescent dating in their power dynamics, social skill development and peer influence. These factors are critical to understanding physical violence and psychological abuse in early romantic relationships and may help explain the similar perpetration rates among boys and girls suggested by current statistics.
All of this points to important implications for teen dating violence prevention and intervention strategies. Because girls engage in high levels of physical aggression and psychological abuse and most abusive relationships are characterized by mutual aggression, prevention efforts must be directed toward both males and females, and interventions for victims should include services and programming for boys and girls. Interventions must also distinguish between severe forms of violence that produce injury and fear and other more common abuse.
And finally, research on the extent to which teens involved in abusive relationships become involved in adult abusive relationships — whether as victims or perpetrators — is sorely needed.
NIJ Journal No. 261, October 2008
About the Authors
Carrie Mulford is a social science analyst at the National Institute of Justice. She has worked extensively with research on juvenile justice, teen dating violence, child abuse, elder mistreatment, enforcement of victims' rights laws, hate crime and situational crime prevention. Since 2006, she has been the coordinator of the Federal Interagency Workgroup on Teen Dating Violence, whose members contributed to this article.
Peggy Giordano is the Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology at Bowling Green State University. Her research centers on social relationship experiences during the adolescent period, focusing particularly on studies of the nature, meaning and impact of friendships and romantic relationships.
The long form of this article is much more technical in nature. In general, the authors ask questions that might give us pause, is teen date violence based upon the same factors as adult violence. If we can understand why children become violent or verbally abusive we will have a better chance of helping them, and perhaps preventing their growth into abusive parents! One thing that remains un-answered, how much does the behavior of the parent affect the behavior of the teen? Do they learn modeling from an abusive parent? What do you think? Feel free to leave your points of view!