By Appreciable Goodfaithpoet
In this paper I will identify the multiple levels of ecological influences on the risk behavior of Teen Dating Violence among adolescents. This paper will address the following of Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Development Model Levels: Individual, microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem. (It is beyond the scope of this paper to address the chronosystem level influences.) I will then share my opinions about teen dating violence and summarize the multiple influences on engagement in this at-risk behavior. I will then conclude by reviewing interventions that are effective in preventing teen dating violence. Teen dating violence is a pervasive problem which requires a comprehensive approach for successful prevention.
Teen Dating Violence; Identifying and Implementing Successful Preventative Interventions.
Teen dating violence is a tragic risk behavior which includes physical violence, sexual coercion, Rape, social exclusion, spreading rumors, stalking, name calling, and emotional abuse.
Adelman & Kil (2007) indicate that Dating Violence also sometimes entails attempts to maintain exclusive connection to victims by isolating them from their friends.
According to Wekerle, Leung, Wall, MacMillan, Boyle, Trocme, & Waechter. (2009) the victimization rate for serious physical teen dating violence as found in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health is that, ten percent of young people are victims of serious physical teen dating violence.
Noonan & Charles (2009) point out that the risk behavior of teen dating violence is of particular concern because when young people use physical violence with a partner they are likely to use violence with the same partner again and also to use violence in future relationships as well. That is why it is important to prevent someone from starting down a pathway of abuse before it starts. It is therefore vital to focus on young people who are beginning to initiate dating so that abusive behavioral patterns will not become established.
Noonan & Charles (2009) also indicate that the help of many is needed in the effort to reduce teen dating violence. Young people cannot be held solely responsible for improvements in teen dating violence prevention. Adults, schools, and communities must also help to promote the well being and safety of young people by providing good role-models, supervising, producing good educational programs, changing or enforcing policies, and challenging social norms that condone all forms of abuse and violence. The extensive nature of teen dating violence requires creative
and comprehensive solutions that include all community members—youth, teachers, coaches, parents, friends, and policymakers. Only by working together will we effectively prevent teen dating violence.”
Noonan & Charles (2009) reported that young people largely reject the idea of going to responsible adults such as parents, teachers or school councilors for help and guidance because they worry about confidentiality and maintaining their credibility among the Peers. Young people tend to turn to their friends and siblings for assistance and information. Because of these factors peer educators and counselors can be the most effective strategic inlet in reaching youth with information and advice.
Because young people are often unwilling to seek the advice, support, and help of adults when they experience teen dating violence, the effort to educate and encourage young people is even more urgent because they must be the ones to advise their friends and provide support and information to those who are experiencing dating abuse.
When we consider the rush of positive emotions that often takes place at the beginning of romantic relationships, we see a correlation between this mood of emotional exhilaration and the willingness of individuals to engage in risky sexual behavior. The less we know about someone the more powerful the illusion of perfection can be. As this initial phase of the romantic relationship fades, doubts often arise about the wisdom of continuing such a relationship. Such rapidly developed sexual relationships can quickly turn violent and abusive because of the powerful emotions that accompany intimate sexual behavior. There is much higher risk for a pattern of violent and abusive relationships to develop when young people engage in sexual behavior too early in their lives and too early in their relationships.
Individual Level Influences
Noonan & Charles (2009) suggest that the age of the individual is a very important influence for many reasons as we consider Teen Dating Violence prevention. Young people need prevention messages before they start dating if they are to avert teen dating violence. Young people are forming their behaviors and beliefs about dating violence while they are in Junior High School. Teen Dating Violence Interventions must include and emphasis on skill building, tailoring programs for specific groups of young people, and using creativity to find innovative ways of reaching young people.
Many relationships in Junior High School often terminate after just a few days or weeks. When young people are in Junior High School there are few opportunities to engage in serious romantic relationships because the young people have a difficult time being alone together, have little money and are not able to drive. Many parents will not allow their children to date at this age and so much of the time that these young people spend together is during school hours.
Some young people hold hands, hug, and kiss. When they describe their romantic relationships they say they are going out, or have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Most elementary school aged children do not really understand the concept of dating and romantic involvement and even have some discomfort discussing the matter.
Interventions should focus on building skills such as communication, conflict management, and courageous bystander behavior. These skills can harness the largely positive attitudes that exist in this age group. Most young people do not endorse abuse and are needed as part of the solution. As we intervene in an effort to reduce teen dating violence, it is vital that we pay attention to age, race, gender, and other social differences as we design the approach.
Marshall & Jaycox (2009) assert that gender differences also contribute to the attitudes that young people develop about Teen Dating Violence. Boys hold more attitudes of acceptance about violence. It is difficult to study the gender differences however, because young people who answer study questions are likely to approach their answers with the role of boy or girl in the question being paramount in their minds. As they respond to questions they will likely see themselves as perpetrator or victim depending on their gender and how the question is worded. This phenomenon leads to different interpretations of the question as well as different motivations for choosing answers.
As an example of the gender differences, if there is a math problem with the word “girder” (which is part of the structure of a building) a male student may get the problem correct while a female student may stumble over that vocabulary term and get a lower score even though she may have superior math ability.
Gender differences and socialization must be considered when trying to examine outcomes associated with dating violence intervention efforts. Only then can policymakers and prevention and intervention specialists know how best to influence change. It is interesting to note also that societal norms are more lenient about female-to-male violence than they are toward male-to-female violence. If a boy says something intentionally that upsets a girl it is viewed by both genders as acceptable for the girl to hit the boy. If however, a girl says something that upsets a boy it is viewed as unacceptable for the boy to hit the girl. There is a strong and prevalent cultural message that boys hitting girls is wrong no matter what. This message is strongly instilled in boys. Both genders also feel that retaliatory hitting of someone of the same gender is more acceptable.
Noonan & Charles (2009) also propose that boys may be very effective resources to promote safety, respect, and equality. Male leadership is very important because boys often appear to set the social “rules of the game” among peers.
Microsystem Level Influences
Banyard & Cross (2008) have indicated that the interaction of young people at school with their peers and teachers has a profound influence in their lives. Teachers can include important messages in their curriculum that can help young people not only avoid teen dating violence but also cope with this abuse if it occurs. Teachers can watch for the warning signs of depressed mood, substance abuse, and negative educational outcomes that sometimes point to teen dating abuse and be vigilant and mindful of the interconnected nature of these risk behaviors. There are times when students who had been doing well, loose their drive to succeed. This situation can create and important red flag for educators.
There are many instances where risk factors have an interconnected effect. Sometimes educational problems lead to substance use, which then creates situational risk for dating abuse. Because of this fact there is a need for interventions that address multiple issues in tandem, such as, educational problems, mental health concerns and substance use. Educators are in a powerful position to provide stress moderating effects that promote well-being in those who are under stress. Greater perceived support is related to more positive outcomes in the lives of young people. There is a need for effective teen dating violence prevention and relationship skill building not only in High Schools but earlier. Making time for such interventions is very important. These early interventions can help improve the school functioning of young people.
Adelman & Kil (2007) indicate that peers and friends are very important in influencing teen dating violence prevention. Couples who are dating are always influenced by the friends of their dating partner, even if it is through the expectations which their partner has developed with the help of their friends prior to their relationship beginning. Friends are sometimes targets of violence in dating conflicts. Friends can even sometimes be participants in conflicts and violence. At other times friends become confidants who are in the most trusted position for the troubled young person who is seeking advice about a current situation.
Given the social implications of dating in high school, dating has an effect on all students whether they are dating or not. Dating relationships have and effect on the friends of students and these influences have an impact on their relationships with each other. Dating violence also includes being socially ignored, threatening to harm a person’s reputation through rumors or disclosing information to friends. In this way, friends are often active participants in dating violence.
Young people are very aware of the need to deal with conflicts involving their friends because they are immersed on a daily basis with situations where friends differ over their dating relationships and risk loosing friendships which compete with romance.
Mesosystem Level Influences
Wekerle (2009) showed that in school, in work, in partnerships, in families, there is a skill set to healthful relating that may need to be explicitly developed and coached in youth over time. The help of all is needed in this effort if Dating Violence is to be prevented.
Some of the risk factors that have an impact on teen dating violence include: early entry into alcohol use, marijuana use, and sexual intercourse with partners The presence of two risk factors
increased the likelihood of dating violence victimization over 6-fold (among females) and 4-fold (among males). Four risk factors increased the odds over 18-fold (females) and 9-fold (males). For females, victimization was associated with a wider range of risk factors.
Childhood emotional abuse perpetrated by parents has a profound effect in the lives of children and research has shown a link between adolescent post-traumatic stress disorder and later teen dating violence. Emotion abuse from parents impacts a child's approach to relating to themselves and to others. This type of family interaction limits a victim’s conceptualization of and skill set for healthy, close relationships. Young people need to realize that they have the potential to make a different choice in their lives and receive an opportunity to develop close relationships with other individuals outside of their homes which can lay the foundation for future relationship success. Some young people who have been maltreated repeat their previous experiences almost as a form of re-enactment.
Teens normally do not share their dating violence experiences with adults and in families where emotional sharing is already inhibited it may serve to produce an even stronger negative impact in the level of guidance and support that emotionally abused young people receive.
Banyard, Cross, and Modecki (2006) theorized that neighborhoods provide monitoring that influences adolescent interpersonal violence. Some neighborhoods have a lack of social organization and control that leaves them ineffective at preventing crime. All of the microsystem influences must work together within a neighborhood to achieve collective efficacy. Disclosure of victimization and protection from dangerous people are likely in areas that display a sense of social responsibility. Young people who have developed this sense of social responsibility are also less likely to participate in risky behavior in many other areas because they do not want to harm their friends and neighbors.
Exosystem Level Influences
Fredland (2010) organized a program that was designed to use the resources already available in the community by partnering with organizations and individuals already in place within the community. Fredland recommended that those who use the community-based community-wide partnering program try to anticipate issues that are likely to arise during the collaboration process and try to address them in advance. Fredland pointed out that the long-term goal of the partnership is to collaboratively establish an evidence-based implementation partnership network that is sustainable. At the outset it is a good idea to make a list of negotiable and nonnegotiable items. She said it is a good idea to schedule regular debriefing meetings so that you can examine issues that may have arisen. It is also important to make sure that a reasonable explanation for a strategy has been delivered and has been understood. It is also not necessary or possible to have all of the questions answered or pieces in place at the beginning. Making modifications along the way should be the rule. It is also important to respect the time of partners who have busy schedules and other commitments. Individuals tend to be involved in many things. It is important to meet when and where it is convenient. It is also a good idea to show appreciation by providing partners with beverages, giving them many points for creativity (this is the great benefit of collaboration) and writing a letter of thanks to each partner periodically. It is also important to be willing to confront institutional and interpersonal challenges in a positive way.
The approach that was used to implement this program started with an effort to improve the health and well-being of communities by addressing identified needs. The community partners allowed the researchers to build the program using the community’s abilities and unique resources. This approach taps into the expert knowledge available about the specific community
and provides a vehicle for collaboration and communication between all of the community partners which may not have existed before the community-based community-wide research project started. This approach produces a knowledge enhancing, empowering process that provides opportunities for groups in the community that have been marginalized. This approach also is able to consider health in an ecological framework because that framework is represented in the collaboration process. When partners from the community are utilized the research becomes more relevant. When the skills, knowledge and abilities of community partners is used it improves the quality of the program because it is based on local knowledge and actual experience. This approach helps to overcome cultural gaps and presents opportunities to avoid redundancy as community members share personnel.
When assembling a sustainable partnership within a community there must be ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the collaboration process, open communication and a willingness to modify the structure of the program as necessary. Challenges along the way should be expected and considered normal. Those who are organizing such a program should anticipate and embrace to compromise. Being willing to give as well as take will change attitudes and lead to mutually beneficial solutions. Knowledge that is gained outside of academia can be equally as important in defining, guiding, and completing the types of programs. When doing research in a community we should remember that research participants are justified in asking for an opportunity to influence the direction of research in their communities. We should use an approach that will build trust by recognizing and assisting in the needs and goals of the community in a way that respects their culture. This study concluded that, regardless of the phenomenon under study, collaborating with those directly involved who have the knowledge
and skills to deliver a relevant and appealing intervention would have the best impact on the health of the community.
Manganello (2008) asserts that the media consumption decisions of young people are one of the most powerful influences on their dating and intimate partner attitudes. Most teens are exposed to a very large amount of media on a daily basis.
Teens recognize that pornography influences their behavior in a negative way. Teens are provided role models and examples of how to act toward dating partners according to the media which they consume. Media may not only influence the young person’s attitudes, knowledge, and behavior but can also influence parents, peers, and social norms.
Social norms and attitudes, which have been shaped by media, are likely to have an influence on dating violence among adolescents.
Macrosystem Level Influences
Teten, Ball, Valle, Noonan, & Rosenbluth (2009) propose that the social ecology that exists in our world is made up of the interaction of the individual, their peers, family, school and community, and societal influences. The issue of dating violence needs a comprehensive intervention approach at all levels. Many States are changing their policies to address the public health problem of dating violence. Some states have adopted programs that are based on social marketing principles and models of behavior change. These integrated approaches from governmental organizations utilize creative materials, media outreach, public relations, technical assistance and training, and educational events in communities and schools.
Taylor and Sorensen (2004) observed that one of the most powerful things that influence teen dating violence is the social norms that are in place among adults. Most adults, in every race and
religious persuasion favor societal interventions for teen dating violence. When sexual assault, physical assault or weapons were involved the majority of adults condemned these behaviors. Adults feel especially strong about the importance of interventions when forced sex occurs during adolescence.
Summary and Discussion
I feel that one of the most important reasons for nice young people to avoid going steady and choose instead to casually date several people, is because of the wonderful impact that such interactions can have in the future as young people choose a partner to date exclusively. The friendships and romantic relationships that we form in our early adolescence have a big impact on our dating and relationship activities in the future. Young people need positive models of healthy dating and romantic relationships. These models can be found in the example of parents, peers, friends, and positive media.
I believe that what a person thinks about in their heart has a strong influence on the type of person they are, and also on the person they will become in the future. This has proven to be true when it comes to the propensity to commit teen dating violence as well. If young people choose to fantasize about sexual acts, it is best for them to fantasize about participating in a consensual and a mutually satisfying sexual relationship with their future spouse. If young people avoid even imagining themselves committing violent acts against others, they are more likely to avoid playing out violent behaviors, such as rape, in their own lives.
The age and gender of young people are important considerations in our approach to intervention. The educational system and the experience that young people have with their peers also has a very significant impact on the attitudes and behaviors of young people. Risk factors at
all levels interact and magnify the risk to individuals in order to mitigate this effect the efforts of everyone in the community are needed to produce enough synergy to overcome these challenges. Even individual choices about media consumption by adults will determine the programming that is available on television and the radio from which younger people must choose. Media outlets produce the things that will sell. The choices of adults have a significant influence on the media market.
Crooks & Baur (2008) explained that in a study of 222 male college students who self-reported on a questioner that 35% of them had seen violent pornography in the previous year. The 35% who had seen violent pornography self-reported that they felt like they were more likely to commit rape or use sexual force against a woman. Surveys of imprisoned rapists have shown that exposure to sexually violent media can lead to increased tolerance for violent coercive sexual behavior, a more widespread belief is the myth that women want to be raped, reducing sensitivity toward rape victims, desensitization about violence toward women, and in some cases a greater likelihood of committing a rape.
Graber (1997) showed that when people are very young and are dating in a serious relationship, they tend to experience negative outcomes such as depressed mood.
Simmons & Blyth (1987) observed that one important reason for depression in adolescent girls appears to be that the girls who are in a serious relationship often find themselves troubled by their boyfriends pressure to participate in sexual activity before they feel ready.
Forgas (1995) Indicated that it takes a great deal of emotional and mental effort to evaluate a serious dating partner. When a person is worn down and feeling depressed about the relationship they are sometimes less likely to have the courage to make the decision to break off the negative relationship and select a more suitable romantic partner. Such a decision takes a very high degree
of mental and emotional processing and so the ability of an individual to make a decision like this is powerfully affected by their mood.
Davis, Kirby, & Curtis (2007) shared the idea that as we try to understand people’s decisions about whether or not to take big risks, we see that a person's mood plays a large and unpredictable role in their choices. I have noticed that when people are in a good mood, they may be more likely to take risks without thinking about the consequences. However, even if they are in a bad mood they may feel like rebelling and go ahead with poor decisions anyway. It seems that emotional extremes are the potential danger zones. There are many smoking cessation programs that fail because they use scare tactics that only further depress their participants. It is better to establish a comfortable atmosphere and focus on the benefits of not smoking. This is a more successful approach when trying to influence people to stop risky behavior.
Fredland (2010) set a goal in her study to promote healthy relationships and prevent unhealthy behaviors. She tried to help young people avoid bullying and the escalating violence the can occur as a result. She pointed out the importance of developing programs that are appealing to young people. She discussed the use of interactive theater as an intervention to teach middle school children how prepare to have positive romantic relationships. The community partners developed a script which had a creative, interactive approach. In this interactive approach, the audience was invited to participate by viewing the play and then while watching it again to say, “Stop” when they felt that a better approach could be taken which would lead to a better and more socially positive outcome. They were then invited to come up and act out their suggestion with the actors in front of the group. Because the actors made it fun there were many willing participants. This type of gentle education proved to be a useful and successful approach. The majority of students who participated in the student survey perceived the experience as a positive
one and felt that they had gained knowledge about bullying or sexual harassment. The majority of students also believed that their behavior and that of their classmates would change as a result of the information that they had learned. This intervention is therefore an innovative and appealing approach that succeeded in teaching young people about developing respectful peer relationships by increasing their repertoire of adaptive responses.
Fredland (2010) also observed that one of the lingering challenges in preventing teen dating violence was the possibility that some of the students who attended the performances started the experience without understanding what constitutes the grounds for a healthy relationship.
This situation is difficult to overcome because it is difficult to replace maladaptive responses if there are not models of healthy relationships to serve as alternate examples for young people. The Interactive Theatre Intervention used by Nina Fredland showed unhealthy relationships and then asked the students for input on better ways to deal with stress and difficult situations.
However, the theatre program used by Fredland may have actually served to model and reinforce negative dating behaviors. Perhaps this program would have been better served if it had modeled healthy behaviors and then allowed students to describe and discuss maladaptive examples that they had seen in their lives and then reinforce the reasons why the positive examples in the play are a preferred way of interacting. The young people could have then taken the stage and been given a chance to act out the positive behaviors that they had just witnessed.
Some intervention programs try to provide adult led support groups to help those who are in abusive and violent dating relationships. However these support groups are generally not well attended because young people prefer to talk with other adolescents about their dating relationships possibly because of fear of condemnation of an early sexual relationship including the potential of their parents being informed about their sexual behavior.
Marshall & Jaycox (2009) point out that as prevention programs try to change student’s attitudes about dating and intimate partner violence, it is wise to do assessments before and after an intervention to improve estimation of the effects of prevention programs. Prevention programs are emerging that allow teens to articulate their thoughts about dating violence scenarios as they unfold. A variety of factors influence teens’ perceptions of dating violence (e.g., whether the perpetrator is male or female, a friend or a stranger, gender of respondent) The insights provided by soliciting adolescents’ thoughts in the moment may be translated into more appropriate approaches that teens will respond to with greater success.
Teten et al. (2009) proclaimed that there were only two programs identified that were comprehensive enough to succeed in demonstrating reductions in dating violence behaviors in controlled evaluations. These two programs were Safe Dates and the Youth Relationships Project. There is a need to provide financial resources to programs that demonstrate the ability to truly prevent dating violence. Current programs need to be evaluated and more research is needed in this area. We must examine further the preventions which are aimed at different ecological levels and examine how intervention effects may interact with each other. Only then can we move forward toward best practices for the prevention of teen dating violence.
In our efforts to help young people avoid dating abuse we have a powerful influence as parents. We not only model to our children the appropriate and healthy relationship behaviors and skills, we also have an opportunity to show affection to our children as well. In societies that give affection and love to their children at a very high level there is always less violence in those communities. Perhaps the most valuable preventative measure for teen dating violence is the feeling of validation and self worth that young people receive when someone in their life is genuinely loving and consistently supportive toward them.
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