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Teen dating violence impacts adult health

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
dating violence, teens, substance abuse, suicide, romantic relationships

Teen dating violence is a not uncommon problem in the United States. According to a new study, the experience can result in adverse health outcomes in young adulthood. Researchers affiliated with Cornell University (Ithaca, New York) and Boston University (Boston, Massachusetts) published their findings online on December 10 in the journal Pediatrics.

The objective of the study was to determine the longitudinal association between teen dating violence victimization and selected adverse health outcomes. The researchers reviewed data from Waves 1 (1994–1995), 2 (1996), and 3 (2001–2002) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The material represented a nationally representative sample of US high schools and middle schools. The study group comprised 5681 12- to 18-year-old adolescents who reported heterosexual dating experiences at Wave 2. These participants were followed-up approximately five years later (Wave 3) when they were aged 18 to 25.

Physical and psychological dating violence victimization was assessed at Wave 2. Outcome measures were reported at Wave 3, and included depressive symptomatology, self-esteem, antisocial behaviors, sexual risk behaviors, extreme weight control behaviors, suicidal ideation and attempt, substance abuse (smoking, heavy episodic drinking, marijuana, other drugs), and adult intimate partner violence (IPV) victimization. Data were analyzed by using multivariate linear and logistic regression models.

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The data was controlled for socio-demographics, child maltreatment, and pubertal status. The researchers found that, compared with participants reporting no teen dating violence victimization at Wave 2, female participants experiencing victimization reported increased heavy episodic drinking, depressive symptomatology, suicidal ideation, smoking, and IPV victimization at Wave 3; male participants experiencing victimization reported increased antisocial behaviors, suicidal ideation, marijuana use, and IPV victimization at Wave 3. Those of both sexes who were in aggressive relationships as teens were two to three times more likely to be in violent relationships as young adults.

Lead author Deinera Exner-Cortens noted that the data did not specifically address why many of the negative outcomes were different for boys and girls, or explain the conditions that led to revictimization. She added that it is known that girls are more likely to experience more severe physical violence, sexual violence, and injury; furthermore, they report more fear around their aggressive dating experiences. Therefore, more research is needed to better understand how aggression functions in teen dating relationships. She noted that healthy romantic relationships are a very important developmental experience for teens. They help them develop a sense of identity, a sense of autonomy.

The authors concluded that their findings suggest that dating violence experienced during adolescence is related to adverse health outcomes in young adulthood. They added that findings from this study emphasize the importance of screening and offering secondary prevention programs to both male and female victims.

Take home message:
This study notes that teen dating violence has a long-lasting impact on an individual. It also notes that boys as well as girls can be victims. Thus, it is important to be aware of teen dating violence and discuss it with their teens. If signs of violence exist (i.e., cuts or bruises), parents should prompt a discussion of teen dating violence.

Reference: Pediatrics