Teen dating violence is an unfortunate reality for many teenagers across the United States. It can include a number of different types of abuses that have serious ramifications on the physical and mental health of the victims of such abuse. The goal of this research is to find a measurable correlation between exposure to abuse within romantic teen relationships as a way to better understand the ramifications of this abuse. By using regression models to show such a correlation compared to a control group of teens who have not been exposed to such violence will hopefully show the connection. With this knowledge, policy makers can then create the best strategies for prevention and intervention as to save these teens from suffering aspects of depression and/or anxiety unnecessarily as caused by their exposure to violence within their romantic relationships.
The teen population of America’s youth is incredibly vulnerable to so many things, from peer pressure to teen dating violence. It is an unfortunate reality that many of today’s teen couples engage in some sort of violence towards their romantic partner, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. The numbers of teens reportedly experiencing such violence tied to their dating relationships is alarming. What is even more alarming are the long-term after-effects of the violence experienced by teens within the context of their relationships. Among physical dangers, such violence has been thought to correlate with later emotional instability with the onset of depression, anxiety, and other motives for negative behavior after being a victim of abuse within a relationship. It is the goal of this current research of determine exactly how likely rates of depression and anxiety correlate with the violence seen in teen dating. It is the constructed hypothesis of this research that teens that have experienced abuse from both physical violence and emotional abuse within the context of dating relationships will have higher levels of depression and/or anxiety. Thus, the presence of abuse is teen relationships facilitates measurable levels of depression and/or anxiety within teens. In opposition to our constructed hypothesis is our null hypothesis, which states that abuse within teen relationships has no real measurable affect on facilitating depression and/or anxiety, and that such states are actually facilitated through another means.
To truly understand the dynamics of teen dating violence, we must first look at the practice of teen dating itself to clearly define the contexts in which the acts of violence take place. The concept of dating is a relatively new phenomenon coming out of Twentieth Century social customs (Jackson et al. 1998). Previous to the 1920s, dating and courtship was much different than how it is viewed today. Typically, short periods of courtship were immediately followed by marriage. However, around the middle of the Twentieth Century, dating moved away from being a practice of marriage courtship, and the rules of formal dating changed dramatically. From the middle of the Twentieth Century onwards, dating became a social phenomenon that allowed teens to enjoy the company of multiple partners over a period of time, without the necessity of ending in a marriage. Today, dating is considered as a mere relationship between two individuals who share a mutual like or love for one another. Yet, as dating has become more widespread and loosely confined, there have been problems surfacing, including that of dating violence. Based on the social practice of dating being so relatively young, the research of dating violence has been slow to catch on within the world of modern social science; in fact, “Not until the late 1970s and early 1980s would dating violence be somewhat recognized as a social phenomenon and as a significant area or problem for social research,” (Jackson et al. 1998:84). This leads to serious gaps in research and a lack of a thorough understanding of teen dating violence along with all of its ramifications, both physical and emotional.
In modern day research, the numbers of teens who have experienced some sort of teen dating violence or another is astounding. According to prior research, “According to one investigation, 29% of victims experienced their first incident of dating violence between the ages of 12 and 13 and 40% were first victimized between the ages of 14 and 15,” (Holt & Espelage 2005:311). Those are alarming numbers within a small sample group. National numbers tend to be much smaller, but still high enough to produce significant alarm within the social science community. These rates, although high, are not increasing, and “National trends in the prevalence estimates of physical dating violence victimization over the previous 12-month period among high school youth indicates its relative stability; prevalence rates in 2005, 2003 and 1999 were 9.2%, 8.9%, and 9.1%, respectively,” (Howard et al. 2007 “Psychological factors associated with reports of physical dating violence among U.S. adolescents females”:311). So, at the turn of the century, the rates have remained relatively stable, yet still alarmingly high. Yet predicting and preventing the onset of teen violence has become quite a challenge for many researchers and policy makers. As more and more attempt to combat these numbers, many are finding that there are more teens that have experience teen dating violence, but yet have refused to surface. Others are finding it even harder to combat based on the practice being found across numerous demographics and populations with little significant patterns. In a 2007 study (Howard et al. 2007:325), “no systematic pattern emerged by grade level for physical dating violence.” Thus the major strategy for combating teen dating violence has become one of early prevention, which is the only real way researchers have found to truly permeate into so many demographics with seemingly very little set patterns involved in the practicing of teen dating violence.
The practice of teen dating violence can incorporate several forms of abuse directed towards one or both partners within the context of a teen relationship. First and foremost, there are physical abuses, which prove to have the most danger in terms of both immediate and long-term ramifications upon the victim of the abuse. Research has defined the acts included within physical abuse “to include physically violent acts such as slapping or punching a partner,” (Holt & Espelage 2005:321). These can be isolated acts of aggression, or more continual abuses similar to those seen in long-term domestic abuse situations between married or committed couples. The physical acts of abuse can lead to serious physical health risks, along with deeper rooted emotional instabilities tied to the initial physical act. Another form of abuse seen within the context of teen dating is sexual abuse. Within many teen relationships there is some form of forced sexual contact, where “Some may fail to resist sexual advances for fear of being physically or emotionally battered, whereas others may go along for the sake of popularity” (Jackson & Oates 1998:93). This unwanted sexual activity is then considered abuse based on its forced nature. In many cases, this is not pure physical force, but repeated psychological pressure from one partner to engage within sexual intercourse. There is another type of sexual abuse which is commonly seen within teen populations, incidents of what is known as date rape. Date rape can be defined as rape that is committed after one member of the relationship has been drugged by the other, or is too intoxicated to ward off unwanted sexual advances (Jackson & Oates 1998). Such abuses tend to make up the physical side of abuse seen within the context of teen dating violence.
Yet, there is a completely different side to teen dating violence which is enacted with no physical contact or danger. Emotional and psychological abuse can be a major force within teen dating violence that can have serious ramifications on the later mental health of teen victims. According to research, “Emotional/psychological abuse was defined to include behaviors such as manipulation and verbal battering,” (Holt & Espelage 2005:321). This form of mental abuse experienced within teen relationships can later lead to more aggressive abuse in a physical form. It can also have serious ramifications on the mental well being of both the victim and the victimizer. Outside of physical abuse, mental abuse within teen relationships is one of the most common forms of abuse seen in the modern context. It can vary in terms of severity as well as in intention. Many victimizers have no idea that they are unintentionally mentally battering their partner, yet many others do so with full conscious intent as a way to mentally subdue or subjugate their partner into an inferior position. In many cases, emotional and physical abuses go hand in hand, and are experienced within the context of the same relationship. Another form of abuse involves abuses money or material possessions. This practice is commonly known within the context of research as economic exploitation. Economic exploitation includes “stealing, damaging, or destroying a partner’s money or property,” (Jackson et al.1998:92). In many cases, this is done to subjugate one of the partners, but it can also serve as a form of punishment the abuser enacts on the victim. Economic exploitation also includes the “threatening to take money, forcing a date to pay solely for items that are to be shared, or stealing money or property,” (Jackson & Oates 1998:92). These forms of abuse are much harder to identify and combat, and in many cases go unnoticed within large bodies of previous research.
Identifying the real victims within teen dating violence can also prove to be a challenge for modern research. In traditional thinking, construed by the facts of domestic violence experienced by older generations in a married or committed relationship, females in violent relationships tend to be the focus of the abuse over their male counterparts (Holt & Espelage 2005). Therefore, many assume that this is the same within the context of teen dating violence. So, many programs and prevention initiatives have focused on helping the female victim of abuse, while largely under-estimating the need to combat abuses suffered by male teens within the context of their relationships. However, numbers of male and female abuse victims in terms of both physical and emotional abuse are relatively close. Some studies have even found that within the context of teen relationships, females tend more to be the perpetrator of the violence than the male within the relationship (James et al. 2000). More recent research specifically conducted on teen populations involved with abuse has shown relatively similar numbers of female to male victims. One study found that “Female victimization rates reportedly range from 7-18%,” while “adolescent boys do report sexual violence as well estimating ranges from 5-14%,” (Howard et al. 2007 “Prevalence and psychosocial correlates of forced sexual intercourse among U.S. high school adolescents”: 631). This a trend that seems specifically unique to teen dating violence in comparison to traditional populations of domestic violence which look more specifically at married couples. In such research conducted specifically within the teen population, “victimization appears undifferentiated by gender and is associated with risk behaviors for both male and female high school students,” (Howard et al. 2007 “Psychological factors associated with reports of physical dating violence among U.S. adolescents females”:312). This proves unique to teens and then allows researchers to better understand the teen population and formulate intervention and prevention programs. Since “males and females were victimized at approximately the same rate,” this also leads to trouble in defining pure patterns within the teen population that would help strengthen such initiatives (Holt & Espelage 2005:312). Therefore, research has shown that the wide population of both male and female teens being subjected to abuse through teen dating violence will be a hard demographic to tackle.
Other than immediate physical ramifications produced by teen dating violence, there is thoughts that compile significant emotional reactions to such violence that can last well after the violent relationship has ended. A teen’s behavior can be negatively affected after exposure to violence within the context of their relationship. Risk factors of this change in behavior can include an increased sexual promiscuity and poor protection habits with later partners after the end of the abusive teen relationship, “Overall, being a victim of dating violence was associated with reports of sad/hopelessness feelings and engagement in high-risk sexual practices, specifically, recent multiple sex partners and unprotected sex,” (Howard et al. 2007:314). These behaviors can have serious negative impacts on the teen’s life. Increased sexual promiscuity can lead to increased risk for contracting diseases as well as teen pregnancies. Feelings of low self-esteem stemming from an abusive relationship can also manifest themselves in disorders which place the teen in serious physical danger as well, seen in the case of potential increased risks for eating disorders. Research has shown that “Dating violence is associated with outcomes such as sexual risk behavior, eating disorders, teen pregnancy, substance abuse and suicidality,” (McKay 2002:112). These are all serious risk factors within violent teen relationships.
Other research has posited the concept for increased depression and anxiety within victims of teen dating violence, which is the focus of this particular study. Although there is a limited body of research to bank on this concept, it still has been examined to show a correlation between feelings of depression and anxiety to being in a violent or abusive teen relationship. According to research, “Dating violence is a pervasive form of victimization within our society, and has been linked to deleterious outcomes including depression, anxiety, and physical injury,” (Holt & Espelage 2005: 310). These are typical emotional responses also witnessed in more traditional and thoroughly studied forms of domestic violence. Teens experience a number of stimuli that can lead to depressive thoughts, and so correlating teen dating violence specifically to later feelings of depression and anxiety has proven a difficult task for researchers engaged with the problem. Yet, many findings have lead to the idea that the “effects of victimization include anger, sadness, and diminished self-esteem,” (Holt & Espelage 2005:313). In a 2005 study (Holt & Espelage), teens that had experienced emotional abuse within their dating relationships was strongly correlated to the presence an anxiety and depression. Such depressive feelings can lead to serious ramifications including suicidal thoughts and actions. Recent research shows that exposure to teen dating violence is “associated with a having experienced a recent, prolonged episode where the teen felt sad or hopeless, suicidal ideation and attempted suicide,” (Howard et al. 2007 “Prevalence and psychosocial correlates of forced sexual intercourse among U.S. high school adolosecents”:635). These depressive or anxious feelings can last well after the end of the relationship and have serious negative ramifications well into adulthood and beyond.
Yet, with such findings said, there is still a lack of quality research on the topic between the correlation of depression and anxiety with incidents of teen dating violence. Little prior research has actually taken steps to link dating violence and psychological functioning (Holt & Espelage 2005). In fact, most research which has focused on youth dating violence has been within the context of college age individuals, leaving out much of the problems going on within high school campuses (James et al. 2000). There is an unnervingly small amount of attention geared towards specifically determining the correlation rates of depression and anxiety within the teen population. Thus, when teens grow up and show signs of depression and anxiety later in life, there is a disconnect between the true real source, which may in fact be an abusive teen relationship hiding deep in their past.
The first step in developing the methodology for this study would be to secure the parental consent of all teen subjects who are to be included within the context of this research. This can be done once a specific school or group of schools is chosen by sending home parental consent forms to be signed and brought back. Those students’ whose parents do consent will then be entered into the program to be pre-screened and potentially used in the larger sample. Those students’ whose parents do not consent can return to daily school life and be completely excluded from the general sample body with no harm done to the outcome of the survey.
The sample body of subjects for this research will include high school students of all ages and grade levels from a number of different schools representing the general teen population. Specific schools will be chosen based on student population, ethnic diversity, income status, as well as representation of inner city and rural areas. Several measures will be conducted in order to ensure the utmost possible internal and external validity within the students chosen for the research. To keep internal validity, a pre-screening will be conducted that eliminates teens that have experienced other types of abuse which may lead to the same type of anxiety without the presence of teen dating violence. Students who are documented to have depression and do not admit to having been exposed to teen dating violence during the prescreening measures will then be excluded from the sample body of subjects. In accordance with the findings of other similar studies, a large sample body must be chosen in order to best represent the larger teen population. Within the context of other studies “the low number of adolescents in the sample limits the generalizability of the findings,” (James et al. 2000:461). Therefore, this research must best protect internal validity by increasing the sample body size to the largest number of students possible after the initial exclusion conducted by the pre-screening. Also, previous research has found that “Very little is known about the prevalence of dating violence among gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth as previous studies on dating violence have not focused on sexual minorities or same sex relationships among youth,” (McKay 2002:112). Thus, this research must include students within a gay, lesbian, or bisexual relationship in order to represent that population of students. To protect external validity, once the population that has previous depression diagnoses with no exposure to teen violence has been removed, study participants are then chosen by chance. They will then be broken into groups, those who have experienced teen dating violence and those who haven’t. Then the research will test the presence of depression / anxiety to see if the presence of teen violence increases likelihood of depression and/or anxiety.
To outline the measures of the methodology to be used, we must first understand the basic concepts of the study design. Within the body of this research, the independent variable will serve as the presence of teen dating abuse within the lives of the sample body. Not all students asked to participate within the context of the study will have had experience and exposure with teen dating violence. Therefore, such students will serve as a control group. That leaves the independent variable to be the presence of abusive relationships within the lives of teens that have been exposed to teen dating violence. Thus, the dependent variable will then constitute the measurable levels of depression and/or anxiety found within that sample body. This will be measured quantitatively through survey questions which ask the teens to rate their level of depressive and/or anxious feelings in a given number of situations and contexts which would be witnessed within their normal everyday lives.
Once survey questions are given, they will then be tested using hierarchal regression models. These models will help compute the level which teen dating violence exposures are associated with the psychological ramifications of depression and/or anxiety. In order to account for the different types of abuse within teen dating violence, the groups exposed to abuse will be further broken down during analysis into those experience emotional abuse, physical abuse, and both. Thus, we will present three basic regression models that should paint a clear picture of the correlation between depression and/or anxiety within the four populations of the study subject: those with no exposure, those with exposure to physical abuse in teen relationships, those with exposure to emotional abuse in teen relationships, and those who have been exposed to both physical and emotional abuse within the context of a teen romantic relationship. This presents the basic test for analysis, but this research must also follow up with re-test reliability. Students who have participated within the study will be asked to report back within one year for a follow up survey. This will then be analyzed in the same manner as the initial survey. Comparison of the two surveys given at different points of time will then show the progression of depression / anxiety and give information on its long lasting affects even after the end of the abusive romantic ten relationships.
There are a number of potential findings which could form the results of this research. One would be the proving the validity of the constructed hypothesis, which would prove a measurable correlation between abusive teen relationships and later subsequent feelings of depression and/or anxiety. This would go along with previous findings of research and help provide the case for strong intervention and prevention strategies to help teens avoid being involved in teen dating violence. However, there is also a possibility that the research will prove the null hypothesis and show that there is not a correlation between teen dating violence and depression/anxiety, and that the feelings of depression experienced by teens are largely emanating from another set of experiences all together. This would be the findings if there was a stronger correlation between depression within teens that have not been exposed to teen dating violence, or if the levels of depression between the control and experiment group were similar.
Regardless of the findings of this research, it is clear that initiatives should be undertaken by schools and policy makers to help teens avoid being exposed to abuse seen in teen dating violence. According to other research findings, “prevention and intervention efforts should be initiated early, preferably before entrance to high school,” (Howard et al. “Psychological factors associated with reports of physical dating violence among U.S. adolescents females” 2007:325). Prevention methods should then be focused directly t students before the enter high school. The findings of this specific research will no doubt give further understandings of the nature of teen dating violence and its affects on the teens that experience it. With more understanding comes stronger strategies for prevention, “As a greater understanding of the factors associated with dating violence is achieved, more effective prevention and intervention programs can be designed and implemented,” (James et al. 2000:459).
Holt, Melissa K. & Espelage, Dorothy L. (2005). Social support as a moderator between dating violence victimization and depression/anxiety among African-American and Caucasian adolescents. Psychology Review. 34(3):309-341.
Howard, Donna E.; Qi Wang, Min; & Yan, Fan. (2007). Psychological factors associated with reports of physical dating violence among U.S. adolescents females. Adolescence. 42(166):311-332.
Howard, Donna E.; Qi Wang, Min; & Yan, Fan. (2007). Prevalence and psychosocial correlates of forced sexual intercourse among U.S. high school adolescents. Adolescence. 42(168):629-641.
Jackson, Nicky Ali; Oates, Gisele Casanova. (1998). Violence in Intimate Relationships: Examining Sociological and Psychological Issues. Butterorth-Heinemann: Boston.
James. William H.; West, Carolyn; Deters, Karla Exrre; & Armijo, Eduardo. (2000). Youth dating violence. Adolescence. 35(139):455-462.
McKay, Alexander. (2002). Sex research update. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. 11(2):109-128.
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