THURSDAY, March 29 (HealthDay News) -- Psychological and
physical abuse is a common facet of dating for America's
adolescents, a new survey reveals.
Researchers who polled more than 1,400 seventh graders found
that more than 37 percent of 11- to 14-year olds had been the
victim of some form of psychological violence, and almost one in
six said they had fallen prey to physical violence while in an
"Issues of dating abuse among young teens are much more pervasive than I imagine many families believe," said Peter Long, president and CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation, which co-sponsored the survey with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the organization Futures Without Violence.
Long said he was startled to see that three-quarters of the
students reported they had a boyfriend or girlfriend by their
"That's a big number, and it means that this is the age when many kids are forming their views of what it is to have a relationship," Long said. This indicates that this is the appropriate age to intervene, he added, saying, "High school may even be too late."
The finding that 31 percent of these middle school kids is
"experiencing some kind of electronic aggression or pressure such
as provocative or insistent texting should be a warning sign for
us," Long said, "as is the fact that 15 percent have experienced
some kind of physical abuse while dating."
According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
questionnaires, 10 percent of American high school students say
they have been physically abused by their boyfriend or girlfriend.
But clear insight regarding younger teens has been less well
investigated, the researchers said.
To address that issue, between 2010 and 2012 surveys were
conducted in eight middle schools in five U.S. cities: Los Angeles;
Bridgeport, Conn.; Indianapolis; San Diego, and Saginaw, Mich.
The average age of the 1,430 students polled was 12, and boys
and girls were equally represented. About one-quarter were white;
30 percent, black; 34 percent, Hispanic and 12 percent were a
combination of other races.
The survey defined teen dating violence as any form of physical,
sexual or emotional violence occurring within the context of
dating. Psychological violence includes controlling behaviors, such
as not allowing a girlfriend or boyfriend to do things with other
people. Electronic violence covers bullying and name-calling online
or via texts, and physical violence includes pushing, grabbing or
kicking one's partner.
Asked about these and other behaviors in the previous six
"But the good news," Long said, "is that nearly three-quarters of the students reported that in the last six months they have talked to their parents about dating. Not necessarily about dating abuse, but about dating. Which means the door is open for parents to talk to their children about
relationships. So, on the one hand we have real serious issues
here. But, on the other hand, we also have a real opportunity for
parents to engage."
A California mother of two, Alexandra Preston, 35, encourages
parents of teens to take the survey findings to heart.
"There's a tendency to read about a study like this and think, 'That can't be true.' Because we want our kids to be safe and happy, and we don't want it to be true, right?"
"But I think it's important that parents acknowledge that understanding and establishing and respecting boundaries is something all of us have to struggle with throughout life, at every age," said Preston, who added that she herself was a victim of domestic violence in a prior marriage.
Preston, whose children are 13 and 10, is finance and operations
manager for a non-profit agency that works with Robert Wood
Johnson's Start Strong program, which aims to combat dating abuse
in middle school. She said her own experiences have led her to be
proactive with her children regarding healthy relationships.
Her son "remembers what happened in our home," she said,
explaining she tries "to make sense of it, without demonizing the
people who do it, and making sure they know it's not their
Preston said this study could be helpful in raising awareness
about dating issues, and encouraging parents to listen to their
For more on young teen relationships, visit the
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