A large number of teens will experience some form of violence at the hands of an intimate partner. Rates of Teen Dating Violence (TDV) have risen dramatically in recent years, and efforts to prevent it have provided mixed results. The factors that predict TDV must be fully understood in order for interventions to be effective. In an attempt to better identify what factors predict TDV, David Rosenfield of the Southern Methodist University’s Department of Psychology in Dallas, Texas, recently led a study that looked at history of TDV and risk for TDV in a sample of 92 teens involved in the juvenile justice system. The teens were all involved in a romantic relationship and were assessed for levels of aggression, violence and antisocial behavior. Rosenfield followed the teens for a total 12 weeks and interviewed them every 2 weeks. The participants were asked about stressful events in the prior two weeks and also asked to report any acts of violence that they had committed against their partners.
Rosenfield found that the teens were more likely to commit TDV if they had recently experienced stress. However, the cumulative effects of stress had a significant effect on TDV whereas long-term stress seemed to elevate the likelihood of TDV, even in the absence of recent TDV. The participants with a history of TDV and cumulative stress had the highest rates of TDV during the study period.
Rosenfield believes that teens under chronic stress may have decreased emotional regulation as a result, and may be quicker to react with anger and aggression than those who do not experience as much stress. This effect was particularly strong in the male participants, although further research needs to be done to clarify why this occurred. Rosenfield noted that even though the boys demonstrated more aggression than the girls, all teens who have a history of stress and TDV should be targeted for interventions. He added, “At-risk teens may benefit from programs designed to reduce stress and mitigate stress reactivity.” Ultimately, teaching teens how to cope with stress in adaptive and non-violent ways could decrease the overall rates of TDV.
Rosenfield, D., Jouriles, E. N., Mueller, V., and McDonald, R. (2012). When at-risk teens are violent toward romantic partners: The role of common stressors. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031029
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