Primary Sources: How Do Teens and Young Adults Talk About Dating Violence?

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Teens talking and looking at a laptop.

Urban Teens and Young Adults Describe Drama, Disrespect, Dating Violence and Help-Seeking Preferences” (abstract). Caitlin Eileen Martin, Avril Melissa Houston, Kristin N. Mmari and Michele R. Decker. Maternal and Child Health Journal, Vol. 16, No. 5 (2012).

What it’s about: Researchers in Baltimore wanted to learn how African American youth want to be helped when it comes to preventing and ending dating violence. In four small focus groups, the researchers asked 13- to 24-year-olds to talk about what they consider dating abuse, who they would want to talk to about it and what qualities they would value in a resource center, if one existed. Researchers began each focus group session with a question about “relationship drama” to see if participants used the term consistently enough for it to be included in tools meant to identify teens in abusive relationships.

Why read it: Research shows that African American adolescents are more likely to experience dating abuse than their peers. Preventing and addressing relationship abuse can be difficult because many young people don't recognize acts of violence, coercion and control as signs of abuse. This small study delves into how young people define and talk about relationship violence. It also examines what young people want from adults and institutions that try to help them avoid--and get out of--violent relationships.

Biggest takeaway for family and youth workers: Many participants in the focus groups used “drama” and “disrespect” as euphemisms for acts of physical, emotional or verbal abuse. Others defined "drama" as everyday disagreements that didn’t necessarily escalate into violence. Because these words carry so many meanings, the authors write, youth and family service providers and anti-dating violence advocates should avoid using them in place of validated screening questions. Service providers should also ask youth to clarify what they mean by slang terms like “disrespect” and “crossing the line” instead of assuming one shared meaning.

Boys and young men in the focus groups expressed less interest in seeking help from community programs than did girls and young women. Still, most participants, no matter their gender, said they would want to know that a program was safe, confidential and non-judgmental before they showed up. The authors recommend that anti-teen dating violence programs prominently mention safety and empathy in their outreach efforts to help build their reputations through word of mouth.

Additional reference: We recently explored an Urban Institute study that associated cyber dating abuse, inflicted online or by cell phone, with other abusive dating behaviors.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

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