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Introduction: In February, romance is typically associated with Valentine’s Day. But for some teens, a dating partner can prove to be abusive rather than affectionate. Some teens become violent or abusive to exert power and control over a dating partner. February is national Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, an opportunity to provide teens, their parents, educators and friends information and resources to recognize and prevent teen dating violence.
Psychologist and APA member Sherry L. Hamby, PhD, is a research associate professor at Sewanee, the University of the South, and a research associate with the University of New Hampshire Crimes against Children Research Center. She is editor of the APA journal Psychology of Violence, which this month is releasing a special issue about the interconnections among different types of violence. For the special issue, she is lead author of the article, “Teen Dating Violence: Co-Occurrence with Other Victimizations in the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV).”
APA recently asked Dr. Hamby the following questions:
APA: Why do some teens become violent toward their dates? Are there signs a teen should look for in a prospective date before deciding to go out?
Dr. Hamby: Teen dating violence doesn’t just spring from nowhere. Both teens who use violence and those who are vulnerable to being victimized have typically experienced previous victimizations, harsh parenting and other adversities. Some of the most dangerous youth are those who expect their dates to meet all of their emotional and social needs. Jealousy—especially jealousy that is way out of proportion to how long a couple has been dating or how serious their relationship is—is a big warning sign. So are controlling and monitoring behaviors. If you have to send your boyfriend a picture from your phone to prove that you are really at your grandmother’s house, that’s a problem.
Youth who turn to violence to solve other problems are also at increased risk of perpetrating teen dating violence.
APA: Has teen dating violence increased in recent years, and if so, why? Are there usually more incidents near or on Valentine’s Day?
Dr. Hamby: Our data show the rate of teen dating violence is holding fairly steady, unlike some forms of violence which are dropping. Dating violence affects approximately one in 13 youth. Also, there is the problem not only of the persistence of physical teen dating violence but the emergence of new forms of abuse, such as cyberbullying and cyberstalking.
Valentine’s Day and other holidays or special occasions present increased risk largely due to increased consumption of alcohol. Data show that physical violence is more than three times as likely on days that alcohol is consumed compared to days with no drinking. This pattern also holds for psychological aggression, especially for males, who are more than seven times as likely to be psychologically aggressive on days when they drink, while females are about one-and-a-half times more likely. Valentine’s Day can also increase vulnerability because research has shown that for some teens it can be a day associated with intercourse, including first sexual intercourse.
APA: Does the research show any links between teen dating violence and today’s increased use of social media?
Dr. Hamby: Yes, our new study coming out in Psychology of Violence provides the first nationally representative data showing a strong association between teen dating violence and cyberbullying. Victims of teen dating violence are three to four times more likely to be cyberbullied as other teens. These aren’t all boyfriends and girlfriends abusing each other online and in person. It reflects a pervasive vulnerability for all teens that is probably due to parents, teachers and other adults failing to prioritize the safety of teens in their lives.
APA: What are some of the behavioral signs of a teen who is a victim of teen dating violence?
Dr. Hamby: Parents and other concerned adults can watch for a dramatic decline in contact with other friends. It is natural that a boyfriend and girlfriend will want to spend time together, and this will often take up some of their free time that previously might have been spent with other peers. Still, it is important to maintain nondating friendships and it is worrisome if time with friends falls to near zero or they seem anxious about making plans that don’t include their partner. Of course, classic signs of psychological distress, such as symptoms of anxiety or depression, are associated with teen dating violence and numerous other problems and should be investigated.
APA: What should parents do if they suspect their child is a victim of dating violence? What can teens do if they are a victim or if they know someone who is a victim?
Dr. Hamby: There are many steps that parents and other bystanders can take, starting with simply expressing concern and offering to be a safe, nonblaming person to talk to about relationships. Parents are important role models for teens (whether it seems like it or not) and also need to make sure their own relationships are respectful and egalitarian. Speaking up when you see someone being treated badly is also a way to help create community norms that promote healthy relationships. Finally, all parents should know about resources in their area and online. No matter where you live in the United States, teens, parents or anyone else can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or loveisrespect at 1-866-331-9474, text “loveis” to 77054.
The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 154,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.
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Article: “Teen Dating Violence: Co-Occurrence With other Victimizations in the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV),” Sherry Hamby, PhD, Sewanee, University of the South; David Finkelhor, PhD, and Heather Turner, PhD, University of New Hampshire; Psychology of Violence, online.
Additional website resources:
CDC's Dating Matters initiative
Love is Respect
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Start Strong Teens, a project of Futures Without Violence