Everyone has heard the harrowing, sad stories of domestic violence reported by the media.
Three BGSU sociologists hope their ongoing research can be applied to doing something about it at an early age.
Dr. Peggy Giordano, a Professor Emeritus of sociology, and Drs. Wendy Manning and Monica Longmore have received nearly $600,000 from the National Institute of Justice for further study of teenage dating violence and contexts in which it occurs.
The work, Giordano said, is “a logical extension” of their Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study (TARS), in which more than 1,300 Lucas County teens have been interviewed four times since 2000. With the new grant, about 400 members of the group who are now 18 years old will be interviewed again, beginning in August.
TARS participants have been asked about their dating and sexual lives in the past. The researchers have data on such aspects of their romantic relationships as jealousy and verbal conflict, which may relate to the risk of violence. There is increased interest in dating violence among the older participants because it becomes more common with more dating experience and as someone is with a partner longer, Giordano added.
Part of that interest lies in the dynamic of relationships. Giordano and her colleagues were motivated to conduct the study because most research on teen dating violence has not focused heavily on the relationship contexts within which violence takes place. They have tended to look at violent parents and child abuse—known to be important risk factors—but what happens within the confines of a romantic relationship must also be considered, Giordano argued.
Through the prior interviews, Giordano and her colleagues have seen that teen couples in violent situations—with more jealousy and verbal fighting—do not always report low levels of positive features in their relationships, such as feelings of love. And that, she pointed out, creates a fuller, more complex picture.
“There is a level of caring that characterizes these relationships,” she said, adding that without it, there would be no relationship. As Manning put it, “There’s got to be some glue—factors that help to explain why some teens stay in relationships they know may not be in their own best interests.”
A relatively high number of the young adults have reported being in a relationship that includes violence, but very few report violence within all of their dating relationships, Manning said. Longmore added that this also points to the importance of learning more about the specific dynamics within these relationships that may increase the probability that violence will occur.
One of the study’s key goals is to better understand the unique perspectives of boys and girls on relationship processes and violence itself. The researchers know that rates of girls hitting boys are actually higher than vice versa, but little is known about what that means, Giordano said, noting that some aggression, with both sexes, may be viewed by teens as playful or not serious.
They are hopeful the work will lead to a better understanding of an entire sequence of events that leads up to and follows violence—not just whether violence occurred but also when it started and what the relationship was like afterward, “so we can get essentially a natural history of the violence,” Giordano said.
This focus on relationship processes also suggests possibilities for change and intervention. While some risk factors such as poverty or early exposure to violence within the family may be difficult to change, relationship-focused interventions could instruct teens about constructive ways to deal with the strong emotional feelings they have, as well as strategies for de-escalating conflicts and disagreements.