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A recent study found that one in three teens report being victims of dating violence and that girls are as likely as boys to be perpetrators of violence. These startling findings are a wake-up call for parents.
The study collected an online survey from over 1,000 dating teens. The purpose of the relevant portion of the survey was to determine the incidence of dating violence, including physical violence (hitting, slapping), sexual violence (including forced advances), and psychological or emotional violence (threats, extortion). These forms of violence mirror the Adverse Childhood Experiences matrix that has established long-term negative physical and mental health effects on adult lives.
Researchers found that girls are almost equally likely to report being a perpetrator of dating violence (35%) as they are to report being a victim (41%). Thirty-seven percent of boys report being a victim of dating violence and 29% report being a perpetrator. Twenty-nine percent of girls and 24% of boys report being both a perpetrator and a victim of dating violence.
Girls were much more likely to report being victims of sexual violence and were also much more likely than boys to commit physical violence. Accordingly, boys were more likely to report being a perpetrator of sexual violence. Boys and girls were about equal in their reports about inflicting and receiving psychological violence.
The older teens got, the more likely they were to report violence. But findings were similar across race and income levels. The findings of this study match findings in a smaller study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So what does this mean for us parents?
- Talk with your teen about bullying behavior that might arise in dating situations. If you have concentrated only on talking about sexual matters, expand that to include physical violence and deliberately inflicting psychological and emotional harm.
- Realize that girls are as likely as boys to be bullies in dating situations and boys are as likely as girls to be victims. Talk about this with your teen and let him or her know that you will support victims and penalize perpetrators regardless of gender.
- Teach. Children who are just figuring out dating relationships are also still figuring out how to control their own actions. Help teens to think through situations and respond with all the maturity they can muster. Model healthy interactions yourself. Your teens are watching.
- Supervise. Certainly you can’t follow around your sixteen-year-old and you can’t host all of his dates in your living room. But when kids are at your house, pay attention to what’s going on. Notice not just sexual activities but also instances of physical and emotional bullying. Speak up to put on the brakes.
Do what you can to dial down the violence in teen relationships and reduce the level of coercion and meanness. A third of children is way too many to have hurtful experiences so young.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.