After federal agencies and nongovernmental organizations began investing in research and programming to prevent and respond to teen dating violence, many researchers and practitioners began to wonder whether the adults who developed these programs and research priorities had an understanding of teen romantic relationships that resonated with young people themselves. NIJ, along with the Federal Interagency Workgroup on Teen Dating Violence, funded Concept Systems Incorporated to research youth and adult perspectives of teen dating relationships. They found that adults and young people often agree on what defines teen dating relationships.
The study included three groups: teenagers (14-18), young adults (19-22) and adults who work with youth. Participants generated more than 600 ideas related to teen romantic relationships. The research team narrowed those ideas into a set of 100 unique statements. Then participants sorted the statements into piles they felt were related. After participants completed the sorting process, the researchers used a statistical method called multidimensional scaling to place the items on a map, with items sorted together most frequently appearing near each other. The researchers used the map to group the items into nine conceptually cohesive clusters: positive communication and connection, early stages of a relationship, signs of commitment, social concerns and consequences, insecurities, intense focus on the relationship, warning signs, dependency, and abuse. The concept maps for teenagers, young adults and professional adults were very similar, indicating a strong consensus among the groups.
The researchers conducted follow-up discussions to learn whether the clusters represented the experiences of the participants. In general, youth thought the clusters were similar to real-life experiences in dating relationships. The adolescents and young adults who participated in the facilitated discussions identified two dimensions on the map — a healthy to abusive relationship dimension and an internal/private to external/public dimension. They also noted that the clusters represented stages of a relationship or movement of relationships over time. They felt that a few concepts were underrepresented on the map, such as peer pressure and sexual experiences. Teens also pointed out that they often felt adults do not respect or take their relationships seriously. Adults who work with youth were surprised at how much agreement there was in the final concept model. After seeing the range of healthy and unhealthy aspects, adults pointed out that a large focus in practice has been on preventing teen dating violence instead of supporting teens in achieving healthy relationships.
From this work, the researchers developed 10 recommendations for teen dating violence research and intervention work. Read the recommendations in the executive summary for this project.
About this Article
This work discussed in this article was completed under contract 2010F-10092 awarded by NIJ to Concept Systems, Inc. The article is based on the report “Teen Dating Relationships: Understanding and Comparing Youth and Adult Conceptualizations, Final Report.” You also may access a separate executive summary of this project.