Teen Dating Violence: What Schools Can Do to Prevent It

Teen Dating Violence: What Schools Can Do to Prevent It

Authors: Tonantzin Juarez MS,  Angela Taylor MPH & Jessica McCann MPH

Teen dating violence (TDV) is any physical and sexual violence, psychological aggression, and/or stalking within adolescent relationships.TDV can happen in person, online or through technology and is considered a type of intimate partner violence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), TDV is an adverse childhood experience impacting millions of young people in the U.S.. The latest CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey reports that among high school students, 1 in 12 (8%)   experienced physical and/or sexual dating violence in the last year. Additionally, female high school students (9.3%) were more likely than male students (7%) to experience physical dating violence. With the rise of misogynistic content from online personalities such as Andrew Tate among students as young as 11, teachers are voicing concerns about the impact such content has on their students’ view of healthy relationships and women in general.

Each February, nationwide awareness about teen dating violence is commemorated through Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM). With this in mind we want to highlight the importance of increasing healthy relationship education and interventions in countering the growing influence of online misogyny and the role schools and school-based health centers (SBHCs) can play in promoting healthy relationships among adolescents.

How Does Teen Dating Violence Manifest?

Teen dating violence manifests in relationships through kicking, hitting, or punching (physical violence), unwarranted touching or kissing and being forced to have sexual intercourse (sexual violence), and jealous behavior, threatening to end the relationship, and stalking (psychological abuse). The National Survey on Teen Relationships and Intimate Violence (STRiV) study found that psychological abuse was the most common form of abuse among teens.

Several social factors, including attitudes about gender and gender roles, are associated with TDV. Research shows that boys who believe it is acceptable to hit a girl (injunctive norms about dating violence) and, although to a lesser extent, that violence during dating is prevalent (descriptive norms about dating violence), have an increased likelihood of perpetrating dating violence. Other factors that contribute to TDV include frequent use of alcohol, delinquency, a history of family violence, cultural and personal power (such as male power), and retaliation.

There are a myriad of negative health and social sequelae that follow TDV.  In addition to physical injury, teens who experience relationship abuse are more likely to report unhealthy diet behaviors, substance abuse, depression and anxiety, risky sexual behavior, and suicidal thoughts. Thus, schools and healthcare providers have a unique role to play in preventing TDV; they can provide valuable prevention messages to help adolescents build healthy relationships and help those exposed to abuse access the resources they need.

Preventing Teen Dating Violence at Schools

Incorporate teen dating violence curricula within sex education or as a stand-alone curricula in schools.

Currently in the U.S., 37 states and the District of Columbia have at minimum one law mandating addressing TDV in schools; however, there is variation from state to state including who TDV prevention education is for, with some states targeting students and parents, students and staff, students only, or a combination of all three groups. While the majority of states provide TDV prevention education, 13 states do not provide this education, leaving millions of adolescents without the knowledge or skills to navigate healthy relationships. Further, TDV prevention education has been incorporated into sex education. Twenty-nine states and D.C. require sex education; however, only five states require comprehensive sex education, which promotes academic achievement, reduced risk-taking, and healthy relationships. While there isn’t a clear relationship between sex education and its impact on physical violence within teen dating, research has shown that curricula about teen dating violence reduces sexual violence victimization.

Schools should serve as TDV resource centers for students and parents.

While not all adolescents attend a school with a SBHC, the School-Based Health Alliance has outlined some steps schools can implement to prevent TDV. Schools can display dating violence educational posters and provide resource cards in bathrooms or other private spaces, prompting students who are in abusive relationships to seek help. While non-SBHC schools may not have the array of healthcare providers that SBHCs do, almost 66% do have a full-time nurse, and almost half of their time is spent on care coordination, such as teaching or counseling. Nurses should be trained on how to screen students for TDV and provide them with counseling, resources, and referrals. Schools are oftentimes a resource center for parents. Schools, including teachers, counselors and nurses, should be able to provide parents with resources that help parents talk and address TDV with their children. Futures Without Violence offers materials to help parents  talk to their children about TDV and healthy relationships.

Schools should partner with organizations addressing partner violence.

Partnerships between schools and community organizations focused on violence prevention such as Futures Without Violence can help staff in schools become informed on TDV. Oftentimes we recognize that school staff may lack the training or education needed to address or identify TDV or if a student may be in imminent danger. Continued education as part of all-staff meetings or ongoing training will help address gaps in TDV knowledge.  In addition,schools should provide students with a community-based organization they can reach out to if they need support outside of school.

Looking Ahead

With growing concerns that adolescent boys are consuming misogynistic content, schools, SBHCs, healthcare providers, and parents all have a responsibility to ensure that adolescents have positive gender attitudes as well as the knowledge and skills to navigate healthy relationships. Schools in particular have a duty to protect their students, including defending them from any physical harm from other students. Since all schools are obligated to address sexual harassment among their study body, they are legally obligated to also address dating violence as it is a form of sexual harassment. Social media remains uncharted territory that is not regulated, with recent data showing that at least 25% of dating teens have been victimized by their partners via social media. Furthermore, dating violence through social media was reported at a higher rate among LGBTQ youth. Given the impact social media has on students and the lack of agency from schools to regulate or prevent it, schools should be involved in current discussions proposed legislation addressing social media violence among children.

If you know of a teen or parent that could benefit from speaking to a caring, well-trained peer advocate, please connect them with the National Dating Abuse Helpline, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, at 1-866-331-9474 (TTY: 1-866-331-8453), by texting “loveis” to 77054, or through live chat at loveisrespect.org.

If you are interested in collaborating with us in this topic, please contact: Jessica McCann at [email protected]