Center for Injury Research and Prevention

To Address Violence, Adults Play a Vital Role in Teen Dating Relationships

February 21, 2017

Each year, February marks Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. In our work with youth, we often find that teens are reluctant to share their experiences of dating violence. Recently, one teen shared that she felt responsible for her victimization because, in an effort to protect herself, she was ignoring her partner’s texts, which led to a violent confrontation. We encouraged her to share what was happening with her mother and she was fearful to do so because she thought her mother would be angry with her.

Trusted adults such as parents, teachers, and healthcare providers are often called upon to support teens as they begin to develop their first romantic relationships. Recent research appearing in the Journal of Community Psychology highlights just how critical a role adults may play, particularly with regards to supporting youth who may be experiencing violence in their dating relationships.

Using data from students presently enrolled in 8th-11th grades, the research team examined social and psychological factors associated with students’ reported intentions to seek help from informal sources (e.g., parents, friends, other adults) and professional sources (e.g., healthcare provider, teacher, therapist, clergy member).

Students who reported the following were more likely to intend to seek help from informal sources compared to students who were unlikely to seek any help:

  • having an adult to talk to about violence
  • low acceptance of family violence
  • high levels of family functioning
  • were female

While prior research from Violence Prevention Initiative colleagues suggests that supportive relationships with adults reduce the likelihood that youth will experience victimization, the present study extends our knowledge about the importance of adults in supporting youth in the aftermath of dating violence. Further, these results suggest the importance of teens’ perceptions and acceptance of violence in relationships in informing their intentions to seek help when needed. Teens who reported low acceptance of family violence had significantly greater odds of intending to seek help compared to intending to seek no help.

How Adults Can Promote Healthy Teen Dating Relationships

These results highlight the importance of caring adults in helping teens navigate the challenges of romantic relationships. Having a trusted adult to talk to about violence was associated with 2.3 times greater odds of intending to seek help from informal sources compared to intending to seek no help.

Ideally, conversations with teens about what constitutes healthy and unhealthy behaviors in romantic relationships should begin prior to the initiation of romantic relationships. While many adults may be uncertain about how to best discuss these topic with teens, the importance of modeling healthy behaviors in their own relationships cannot be under-estimated. For parents and caregivers who may be struggling with intimate partner violence (IPV), or domestic violence, in their own relationships, the far-reaching impact of these toxic and dangerous behaviors not only effect the adults involved but also the children and young adults who witness it. Learn more about IPV.

Parents and other adults who routinely interact with teens have an important role in supporting teens in seeking help when they experience violence. While teens may avoid disclosing violence for fear of judgement by family and friends or concern about escalating violence from their partner, adults who support youth by listening without judgement to their concerns and serving as a trusted source of help and support, may play an important role in preventing further victimization. Ensuring that adults are aware of available professional sources of help can also be an important way to help reduce the barriers for teens to accessing support. 

To access the study abstract, click here.

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