Prevention in Middle School Matters

A Summary of Findings of Teen Dating Violence Behaviors and Associated Risk Factors Among 7th- Grade Students

A new study of 1,430 7th grade students reveals that many 7th-graders are dating and experiencing physical, psychological and electronic dating violence. More than one in three students (37%) surveyed report being a victim of 'psychological dating violence' and nearly one in six (15%) report being a victim of 'physical dating violence.' This study also found that while some attitudes and behaviors associated with increased risk for teen dating violence are pervasive, nearly three-quarters of students surveyed report talking to their parents about dating and teen dating violence. Parent-child communication is considered a protective factor that reduces the risk for teen dating violence.

The study was conducted by RTI International (RTI) on behalf of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Blue Shield of California Foundation as part of an independent evaluation of their Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships (Start Strong) initiative. These results serve as the baseline of a larger evaluation to assess the overall impact of the program.

The baseline findings are important. Teen dating violence prevention in middle school matters. From these data, we are learning that teen dating violence behaviors and associated risk factors are occurring among middle school students in this study. We need to better understand this young age group and how best to promote healthy relationships and prevent teen dating violence in middle school.

Start Strong is one of the largest initiatives ever funded that targets 11- to 14-year-olds to promote healthy relationships in order to prevent teen dating violence and abuse. The Start Strong program utilizes a multi-faceted approach to rally entire communities to promote healthy relationship behaviors among middle school students.

Parent engagement is a key component of Start Strong. As the study shows, many of the 7th-graders that were surveyed are talking to their parents about dating topics, including teen dating violence. This highlights the important role parents can play in prevention efforts. Start Strong educates parents of middle school students about these issues so they can help their children navigate new relationships (both online and offline), including teaching parents the warning signs of abuse and how to start conversations about healthy relationships at an early age.

We know that these early relationships can set the stage for the future. Teen dating violence and abuse is a major public health problem in this country. In addition to undermining young people’s individual growth and academic potential, dating violence and abuse puts young people at risk for long-term health consequences, serious injury and even death. Prevention needs to be a public health priority.

Key Findings

  • Many of the 7th-graders in this sample are dating and experiencing dating violence.

    • 75% of students surveyed report ever having a boyfriend or girlfriend.
    • More than 1 in 3 (37%) students surveyed report being a victim of psychological dating violence in the last 6 months.
    • Nearly 1 in 6 (15%) students surveyed report being a victim of physical dating violence in the last 6 months.
    • Nearly 1 in 3 (31%) students surveyed report being a victim of electronic dating aggression in the last 6 months.

     

  • Teen dating violence is not happening behind closed doors.

    • More than 1 in 3 (37%) of students surveyed report having witnessed boys or girls being physically violent to persons they were dating in the last 6 months.

     

  • Attitudes and behaviors that are associated with increased risk for teen dating violence and abuse are pervasive.

    • Nearly 2 out of 3 students surveyed (63%) strongly agree with a harmful gender stereotype, such as “girls are always trying to get boys to do what they want them to do,” or “with boyfriends and girlfriends, the boy should be smarter than the girl.”
    • Sexually harassing behaviors occur frequently in middle school. Nearly half of students surveyed (49%) report having been a victim of sexual harassment in the past 6 months, such as being “touched, grabbed, or pinched in a sexual way,” or that someone ”made sexual jokes” about them.

     

  • Parents have an important role to play in preventing teen dating violence and abuse.

    • Nearly three-quarters of 7th-grade students surveyed report that, in the last 6 months, they “sometimes or often” talk with their parents about dating topics such as, “how to tell if someone might like you as a boyfriend or girlfriend.”
    • Middle school is a key time for parents to educate themselves about these issues so they can help their children navigate new relationships (both online and offline), including what is acceptable and what is not.

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