Teen Dating Violence: Developing a Research Agenda to Meet Practice Needs - Day 1

December 4, 2007

Part 1 — Conference Overview

Welcome & Introductions
Conference Co-Chairs-Deborah Capaldi, Ph.D. and Barri Rosenbluth, LCSW

Deborah Capaldi, Ph.D., Oregon Social Learning Center, noted that this meeting presents an opportunity to focus on issues related to Teen Dating Violence (TDV) and convene interested parties. In opening remarks, Dr. Capaldi reviewed the agenda and noted that the conference format allows participants to have ample time to engage in meaningful dialogue during the breakout sessions. She encouraged the attendees to become more than spectators and offer their input. Attendees were also asked to interface with people that offer different perspectives on related issues. She informed the meeting participants that insights would be shared from federal agency representatives and panelists would discuss the basic research findings and related gaps.

Barri Rosenbluth, LCSW, Director of School-Based Services, SafePlace, offered a brief introduction and told the participants that the TDV meeting provides a rare and exciting opportunity to closely examine teen relationships relative to dating violence. She noted that the ultimate goal of the conference is to help young people have safe and healthy relationships.

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Summary of Recent Federal TDV Activities

Genesis of this Workshop and Current Federal Activities; Role TDV Plays in National Advisory Committee — Wanda Jones, Dr.P.H.

Wanda Jones, Dr.P.H., Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said during opening remarks that the meeting provides an exciting opportunity to chart a new research agenda. She discussed joint efforts on behalf of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to address this issue. Both of these agencies have examined the role of schools in prevention, the availability of safe places and the establishment of a national clearing house for teen dating violence. Dr. Jones cited the need to incorporate the voice of teens in efforts to create more effective tools. She also stated that the absence of funding and collaborations with key parties impact the services that are provided in relation to TDV. Dr. Jones addressed the critical role that the media plays in creating feasible solutions to address TDV. A vehicle is needed to help convey and reinforce positive messages to address cyclical, subculture-specific messages that promote or normalize violence. She expressed great excitement about the agencies and organizations that will harness their resources and eventually turn the tide relative to TDV.

The panel noted that there is a need to address this issue from a gender-neutral perspective as we move forward in this arena. By so doing, more credence is given to the fact that males and females are both victims and perpetrators. One respondent noted that TDV is not a "women-only" topic.

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NIH 2004 State of the Science Workshop on Youth Violence and Other Recent Research Activities — LeShawndra Price, Ph.D.

LeShawndra Price, Ph.D., National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), NIH, shared that NIMH seeks to support and disseminate information on the best approaches for treating teens' early emotional and behavioral problems, and for families impacted by TDV. NIH held a State of the Science Conference on Youth Violence in 2004, which addressed youth violence issues more broadly. Experts convened to provide information regarding the present state of science so that research gaps can be filled. This conference focused on research related to the challenge of prevention and intervention of youth violence and priorities for future research. She added that state of the science conferences, in general, are a way to provide a progress report on a particular area of science that is of interest to the public.

One of the findings from the 2004 conference was that violence is a national public health issue and affects us all. A number of intervention programs have been shown to reduce violence precursors, violence and arrest. The panel noted that there are some programs that are harmful, some of which are used widely (e.g., the DARE program) and a few widely implemented programs have been found to be ineffective. The panel recommended that programs should be evaluated in different contexts for validity and potential efficacy.

Dr. Price noted follow-up activities that have been underway during the last three years. Many program announcements have been released that include bullying, child abuse and neglect, and other acts of violence in different arenas. One such announcement, sponsored by the National Institute of Child and Human Development (NICHD), specifically focused on children exposed to violence. Grantees funded under this announcement will convene for the third time in 2008. An NIMH program announcement focused on the mental health consequences of violence and trauma. NIMH also convened a workshop specifically focused on identifying target areas for new research in the field of disruptive behavior disorders, specifically related to conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder.

Several publications have been released to undergird these efforts and provide additional resources for those seeking information in this area. In addition, the NIH Child Abuse and Neglect Working Group, a federally mandated group with representatives from across NIH, has an interest in relationship violence and coordinates NIH-sponsored research and research training activities on prevention, treatment and services for child abuse and neglect and its negative health consequences. NIH and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have worked together in consultation on several activities relevant to youth violence.

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Teen Dating Violence Workshop Hosted by NIJ July 2006 — Themes and Recommendations — Bernie Auchter

Bernie Auchter, NIJ, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), provided some highlights from the NIJ Teen Dating Violence Workshop that was held July 2006.

In the most recent authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, TDV gained greater emphasis than before. There is a need to have a discussion with the experts. NIJ's Teen Dating Violence Workshop was convened July 24 – 25, 2006, to address these issues. The purpose of that meeting was to initiate ways to get the conversation started and assess and fill the gaps. There was a need to stimulate interagency collaboration and coordination. Topical areas that were discussed included measurement and scope of TDV, risk and protective factors associated with TDV, community and school-based prevention and intervention programs, justice system responses to TDV, and interagency coordination and collaboration.

Recommendations from the workshop are on the NIJ Web site. Among the recommendations are:

There is a need to begin intervention and prevention programs with younger youths, prior to adolescence. More research is needed to unpack interventions and assess what works; many interventions need to be rigorously evaluated; and there is a need to maximize the benefits of prevention efforts. It was noted that bullying can be a precursor to TDV.

The research issues that were raised during that meeting ranged from basic incidence data to the need for longitudinal studies. A host of evaluation questions were also raised within this setting. Regarding programmatic areas needing to be addressed, the workshop produced a listing of issues that ranged from funding to legislative issues, prevention, curricula and training.

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Part 2 — Frameworks for Understanding TDV — New Directions

Moderated by Lisa Jaycox, Ph.D.

Presentation 1: Development and Relation of TDV to Bullying — Debra Pepler

Debra Pepler, Ph.D., York University, expressed excitement about meeting new people who are grappling with the same issue. She is looking at TDV from a developmental perspective. Some behaviors of children in elementary school may give cues and clues regarding how adolescent dating relationships will evolve. The "power advantage" some children use in bullying arises from skills, size and/or smarts, and knowledge of others' vulnerabilities. When children are bullying others, they learn how to use their power aggressively to control others. In turn, the child being victimized loses power in the relationship. Adults don't always see the power that children have over others. Sometimes children will tap into another's vulnerability, power dynamics begin to stabilize, and the person bullying increases in power. The victim repeatedly decreases in power.

During the presentation, Dr. Pepler showed the audience a video to more fully illustrate issues surrounding bullying. During the clip when children were playing, a boy was victimized but refused to remove himself from the situation. This child's reaction raises the question of victims' responses when being bullied. It was noted that the use of power and aggression in relationships is critical. Data reveal strong links between bullying, gangs, sexual harassment and TDV. These same power dynamics translate into all types of adult relationships (e.g., elder abuse, marital abuse).

The lessons that children learn translate into their intimate, emerging relationships. The gender issue surfaces as well. There is equal concern for boys and girls. Aggressive girls who do not know how to enter healthy relationships are also at risk. At this point in the presentation, Pepler showed a video clip of a girl who bullies another girl. Based on the clip, a trend was noted that many times the individual who bullies receives positive reinforcement and their interaction is therefore validated. Dr. Pepler noted that 85 percent of the time with playground bullying, other children are watching and thus differentially reinforcing the behavior.

Dr. Pepler conducted a study of children in grades five through 12, which allowed for an examination of developmental trajectories of different behavior styles using power and aggression. The definition of TDV in this study included physical aggression only. Some of the noteworthy findings include:

  • "High bullying girls" tend to start adolescence with bullying behavior and then decrease in later adolescence.
  • "High bullying boys" tend to start adolescence with low levels of bullying behavior and then increase in later adolescence.
  • The role of parental monitoring for girls becomes weaker over time in adolescence, while for boys it becomes stronger.
  • The overlap between bullying and dating aggression is greater for girls than boys.
  • Girls who use aggression in their relationships with peers are at high risk for transferring those patterns to dating.
  • The majority of bullies desist in bullying behavior toward the end of adolescence.

Family relationships and parental monitoring are keys in addressing patterns of bullying and TDV. The quality of these relationships is a telling piece of evidence relative to relationship development. Lower parental monitoring among boys has been associated with engagement in dating aggression. Friends of the youths, and their peer group(s), also influenced the bullies. This influence — for both boys and girls — changes the context and affects the level of acceptability.

Dr. Pepler offered the following insights during the conclusion of her presentation:

  • There is an overlap in bullying and dating aggression.
  • The association between perpetration and victimization of dating aggression is strong for both boys and girls.
  • The association of dating aggression with exposure to peers' dating aggression becomes stronger over time during adolescence.
  • Both boys and girls need the capacity to have and foster healthy relationships.
  • How and why do power and aggression carry forward into adolescence in diverse ways?
  • When and how can we intervene to address dating aggression with bullying prevention programs?

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Presentation 2: Models, Including Typological Approaches — Deborah Capaldi

Dr. Capaldi presented results from the Oregon Youth Study (OYS) of couples and discussed typological approaches to studying aggression in romantic relationships. The participants were boys ages 17-18 and their romantic partners. The boys have been in the OYS since fourth grade. This is a high risk sample, with 60 percent of males and 34 percent of females indicating a prior arrest. The OYS Couples Study involved a videotaped interactive problem-solving task, along with self-report and partner-report of physical and psychological aggression in relationships. Partner-reports and self-reports provided similar estimates of physical aggression, with 21 percent of young men perpetrating physical aggression and 23 percent (based on partner-report) to 26 percent (based on self-report) of young women perpetrating physical aggression. In the observational task six percent of young men and 16 percent of young women perpetrated non-playful physical aggression. Overall, the girls initiated four times as much physical aggression as the boys, but boys and girls were equally likely to reciprocate physical aggression by their partner (one-fourth of the time). In 30 percent of couples there was some indication of physical aggression by both parties, in four percent the male was the sole perpetrator, and in 17 percent the female was the sole perpetrator.

Several key developmental and contextual findings from studies conducted over the last 10 years were discussed, including:

  • Conduct problems in childhood are the strongest developmental risk factor for TDV perpetration for both boys and girls.
  • Boys and girls with higher levels of conduct problems tend to date each other, adding to risk.
  • Depressive symptoms predict TDV for girls.
  • Hostile talk about women among male peers in mid-adolescence predicts male TDV in late adolescence.
  • Substance use is associated with TDV, but its role as a risk factor for controlling antisocial behavior has not been well-established.
  • Young men's physical aggression changed significantly with a new partner.
  • The young woman's physical aggression was just as predictive of her partner's future physical aggression to her as was his own.

Thought needs to be given to the type of model to identify those at varying levels of risk for TDV. The typological approach is one approach that can provide information on the heterogeneous nature of partner violence and the importance of association with psychopathology. While this is a preferred method among some researchers, substantial problems arise with typological approaches, including the static nature of typologies (despite evidence that the behaviors change over time), the lack of adequate focus on dyadic interaction, and the lack of adequate testing to confirm the proposed typologies.

Varied and different approaches are needed to help conceptualize complex dyadic behavior and a host of other related issues. Notable key research gaps include: longitudinal research, theory-driven research, developmental risk and aggressive behavior in girls, and understanding contextual effects. Dr. Capaldi noted that self-reports tend to be overused in this area of research and should only be used in moderation given that any single measurement approach is always limited and subject to unique biases. Methods such as partner/family reports and observational data are needed and provide differing perspectives and important insights.

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Presentation 3: Relationship (Dyads) Context within Couples; Mutuality and Gender Issues — Peggy Giordano

Carrie Mulford, Social Science Analyst, NIJ, DOJ, gave a presentation on behalf of Dr. Giordano.

Two perspectives guide most research on TDV. The first is social learning, which suggests that early family exposure increases risk, and the second is the feminist perspective, which posits that the school/peer climate fosters denigration of women and the subtle reinforcement of TDV. Traditional male perspectives view romance as a game and an opportunity to "score." Most boys don't focus on trust and loyalty and often transport their dominant style into relationships. People of both sexes encounter new relationship challenges. Traditional perspectives for girls focus on the importance of relationships which, in turn, may increase opportunities for victimization. According to the traditional perspective, for boys dating is a disingenuous process that lacks sincerity and is deemed as a venue for conquest.

More emphasis needs to be placed on comprehensive couple-level dynamics. The next step is to examine more carefully general research on adolescent romantic relationships. Definitions of the situation and corresponding behaviors are influenced by earlier social influences and experiences. Dr. Giordano's presentation was based on data from the Toledo Adolescent Relationship Study (TARS), in which four waves of interviews were collected from 1,316 respondents in Lucas County, Ohio. Although the sample was based on school enrollment records, school attendance was not required for participation. The presentation focused on two waves of in-depth relationship history narratives that were provided by nearly 100 participants in each wave. The key findings were that boys who are more invested in romance are less confident in this new relationship arena than previous research would lead us to suspect. Boys scored higher on perceived communicational awkwardness and lower on a scale measuring "confidence navigating romantic relationships" than girls. Boys do not differ from girls in their feelings of passionate love and anticipated length of relationships.

Relationships where violence exists are longer in duration and involve more reported feelings of passionate love than nonviolent relationships. However, violent relationships are also characterized by more negative and problem dynamics, including jealousy and conflict. Among the girls who report some violence in their relationships, 51 percent report that the relationship is mutually violent, 36 percent report that they are the sole perpetrators of violence, and 13 percent say that their partner is the sole perpetrator. Among boys, the numbers are reflective of those reported by girls, with 47 percent reporting mutual violence, six percent reporting that they are the sole perpetrator, and 47 percent indicating their partner is the sole perpetrator.

With regards to power and influence, boys report that their partners make more influence attempts and have more actual influence within their relationships.

Even among the females who report victimization only, just 20 percent report that the male has more power. Similarly, in the few cases were the male reported that he was the sole perpetrator, only 25 percent indicated that they have more decision-making power than their partners.

Dr. Giordano emphasized that there is great utility in exploring couple dynamics and issues of mutuality in the relationships. It is important not to use adult models to understand the ways in which adolescents relate. There is a need to develop a teen-focused research agenda.

Changes in gender roles over time need to be examined. Current data suggest that these issues should be viewed within a modern context. Understanding perception of power in the minds of young men and women is also necessary. There is also value in discussing what shapes and frames adolescents' mindsets relative to their relationships, what each individual brings to the relationship, and how the violence quotient is impacted.

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Discussion of Frameworks for Understanding TDV — Led by Barbara Shaw

Respondents raised the following questions and comments:

One attendee questioned how the research accounts for nonconforming youths. This participant noted that young females reported higher mutuality in abuse and how men reported being the target. She cited experiences in working with clients one-on-one (adults) who are homosexual and stated that many definitely believe there is no mutual abuse. Dr. Pepler responded to the question and noted that she did not recall any reporting on same-sex relationships. It was noted, however, that homosexual teens experience abuse from their peers and, in turn, may be more anxious and depressed. Youths who are undergirded by strong family and peer group support will handle the pressure differently.

One respondent commented that sexually-questioning youths are at a higher risk for suicide, depression and anxiety. There is a need to get teachers to recognize and understand kids who are "coming out." There is a lot of problematic research in TDV regarding these groups of individuals. There is a need to think about how to speak with teachers and parents in this present, very conservative environment.

Another respondent raised the issue of sexual abuse and assault relative to TDV. When we talk about bullying and sexual assault we are talking about different issues, Dr. Capaldi shared. She noted that high levels of sexual assaults in the samples are not apparent. Some work has been done surrounding "sexual coercion" issues. Dr. Pepler noted that sexual assault on a continuum can be viewed as a very extreme use of power. Having a conversation with young people about using their power non-aggressively, in a positive way, is critical to getting along with others in a healthy way. Youths at risk of taking their power to extremes need to be identified.

A participant highlighted the need to look at the age difference relative to physical violence within the context of dating relationships. Another respondent shared that in teen relationships, there is still someone with the clear control and power. She was a proponent of conducting research that compares the types of violence that are used in these relationships. The respondent also expressed the need for research to focus on other abusive tactics beyond the scope of force. Lastly, the attendee suggested the need for research on particular subcommunities-based on class, race and culture. There is also a need to look at these relational dynamics and examine how having a child impacts the trend.

Mutual couple violence was another topic raised by a conference attendee. Dr. Capaldi said that some of the murders occur at the hand of dangerous males who have a history of violence and arrests.

Another attendee questioned whether anything in the adult interaction literature can be used in the teen dating violence paradigm. Pepler confirmed the importance of this issue and said that children who are highly victimized switch roles and become victimizers. There are complex and important questions to ask. We need to ask the question, "What have we not put in place for these young people?" We have not been giving them the support they need to have healthy relationships.

The need for clarity with respect to dating terminology is needed. One respondent shared that adult views of dating and teen views may vary. As an example, for some teens their relationships last 20 minutes or can be defined as "hooking up" in the bathroom for 20 minutes. Additional conversations need to convene regarding fear or the severity of injury, race and class issues. It was noted that many girls in relationships are not afraid until something negative has occurred. Many underestimate the possibility of what could happen.

Another attendee focused on the apparent disconnect when discussing bidirectional issues. More discussions around more normative types of aggression and their outcomes (e.g., maiming, killing, suicide) need to be addressed.

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Breakout Sessions

Group 1 — Assessment Challenges

  • There is a need for more federal dollars to be spent on assessment issues. This funding allocation is necessary to complete the outstanding empirical work and secure the basic measurement tools.
  • More clear and precise definitions and measurements are needed relative to substantive issues (e.g., sexual violence, same-sex relationship violence, power). Clarity is needed regarding definitions of power in an adolescent context. Terms such as developmentally appropriate behaviors and developmental context of dating/relationships meaning for youths need to be examined.
  • Measurement strategies/rigorous research on methods of reporting, multimethod are critical. Studies of relationship between methods and measures, language-developmentally appropriate definitions of culture and context are needed. Classical test theory can be problematic, as the behavioral measures do not adequately address all of the relational dynamics.
  • Practical issues-IRB concerns, mandated reporting.

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Group 2 — Adolescent Development Issues

  • Need for more developmental studies to document the context of dating, risk factors and aggression (i.e., may require coordinated, collaborative, multisite studies).
  • Impact of maturational processes (e.g., brain development, timing of puberty, hormonal shifts) on relationship dynamics, risk behaviors and aggression.
  • More studies on developmental context, precursors (e.g., sibling aggression, close relationships, genetic influences).
  • Examination of the implications of teen development for mandatory reporting.
  • Assess whether there is something about children and teens that are implicitly and explicitly taught regarding power and strength in the context of TDV.

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Group 3 — Dyads/Relationship Issues

  • Examination of relationship issues and gaps of understanding.
  • The dynamics of relationship interactions during adolescence — including nature and intensity of feelings and change over time.
  • Nature of violence and bidirectionality.
  • Social/emotional skills that adolescents need for a healthy relationship.
  • Examine the association to later adult romantic relationships — what knowledge can be applied from one to other.
  • Outcomes: What is the function of the violence and differences between males and females?

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Group 4 — Contextual Influences

  • Cultural context.
  • Youth subculture: How do teens define the problem, peer pressure/knowledge, normalization, influence/benefits of technology, homelessness?
  • Gangs.
  • Role of schools: best ways to educate staff, parents, youths.
  • Media: positive and negative aspects.
  • Family context: domestic violence, child abuse, ways to educate/involve parents.
  • Policies: mandated education, public health strategies, universal versus targeted.

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Date Created: July 17, 2008