How Do African American Boys and Young Men View Healthy Dating Relationships?

A smiling couple.

Adolescent African American Males’ Characterizations of Healthy Dating Relationship: A Challenge to One-dimensional Stereotypes” (abstract). Donna Howard, Claude John, Brian Gilchrist, Irwin Royster, and Nancy Aiken. Journal of Child & Adolescent Behavior, Vol. 3, No. 6 (November 2015).

What it’s about: Researcher Donna Howard and her colleagues wanted to explore the qualities African American boys and young men attribute to healthy teen dating relationships. The authors interviewed 18 African American males, ages 13 to 21, from schools, neighborhoods, and community youth groups in the Washington, D.C. area. The researchers began each interview with two questions: “What do you value in a dating relationship?” and “What makes a relationship healthy?”

Why read it: While studies have investigated African American girls’ thoughts on healthy relationships, little research has been done on the qualities valued by minority youth, particularly African American boys. In addition, research on teen dating violence frequently portrays African American teen boys as abusers without emphasizing their perspectives on relationship health, the authors write. Giving African American males the chance to share their thoughts on healthy teen dating relationships can provide a more nuanced understanding of dating dynamics, they add, even if doing so means working with a relatively small sample of youth.

Biggest takeaways from the research: Howard et al. describe four main themes that emerged during participants' conversations about healthy relationships.

  1. Trust. Participants expressed that in order for a relationship to be trustworthy, it must be built on honesty. Most discussed honesty in the context of being authentic, being one’s true self, and not pretending to be somebody else. Similarly, a healthy relationship should not involve dishonesty, (e.g., cheating on a partner, constantly checking up on what someone is doing or where they are), the boys said.
  2. Good communication. The young men interviewed also valued dating partners' ability to share their ideas and perspectives, as well as their emotions. Specifically, they placed importance on “open-easy communication,” or the ease and regularity of communication between those involved. Participants also discussed conflict resolution (i.e., communicating in the context of relationship issues), demonstrating their belief that arguing can be healthy as long as it is respectful and constructive.
  3. Connection and compatibility. Participants also said it was important for people to be with someone who understands them and who allows them to act independently even though they are in a relationship. At the same time, it’s important to have emotional intimacy, they say, meaning that partners can talk to each other without fear of being misinterpreted and while recognizing what makes the other partner special.
  4. Respect. The young men stressed that in a healthy relationship, each partner treats the other person the way he or she would want to be treated. This skill requires boundaries and balance, they say, such as letting partners spend time with their friends or pursue their hobbies. 

Based on the responses to their questions, the authors conclude that their interviewees have a strong sense of the qualities that make up a healthy teen dating relationship. Programs should engage other African American males in conversations to validate their perspectives on healthy relationships, they advise, and to better understand the social complexities of teen dating. Howard et al. also call for a greater focus on positive youth development in research and programs, rather than focusing on dating realtionships' negative dynamics.

Additional references: Learn more about teen dating violence and healthy relationships in the NCFY library.

Read about two dating violence prevention apps that teens can use to stay safe.

Our Q&A with Paula Parker-Sawyers from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy sheds light on the pressure that African American youth feel when it comes to sex and relationships.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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