When many of us think about dating violence, we often think of it being an issue for high schoolers and older adults, but a new study challenges that misconception. A recent study for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Blue Shield of California found that rates of dating violence are reaching alarming rates among students in middle school.
By surveying more than 1,400 students, researchers found 75 percent of students had a boyfriend or girlfriend. Unfortunately, too many of those relationships were unhealthy.
According to the survey, Starting Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships, one in six 12-year-olds has experienced physical dating violence in the past six months; one in three participants have witnessed this type of violence among their peers in the past; and 37 percent of 11- to 14-year-olds had been psychologically abused by a partner.
Violence included hitting, pushing, kicking, sexual abuse/violence and emotional abuse such as controlling behavior and not allowing a partner (male or female) to do something. It's also important to note the sampling of students was diverse: 30 percent were white; 34 percent African-American; 12 percent Latino and other races. Researchers also made sure the genders were equally represented: 50 percent of the participants were male and 50 percent female.
According to HealthDay, researchers also found:
—Forty-nine percent said they had been sexually harassed, either physically or verbally, by being touched inappropriately or joked about.
—Seven percent strongly agreed that it was OK for a boy to hit his girlfriend under certain circumstances, such as "a girl who makes her boyfriend jealous on purpose." Interestingly, 50 percent strongly agreed it was OK for a girl to hit her boyfriend in the same situation.
—Thirty-one percent of these middle school kids are "experiencing some kind of electronic aggression or pressure such as provocative or insistent texting."
—Sixty-three percent agreed with what the pollsters considered a "harmful stereotype" about gender, such as "girls are always trying to get boys to do what they want" or "With boyfriends and girlfriends, boys should be smarter than girls."
Understandably, these findings are alarming, but researchers did find some encouraging data.
Peter Long, president and CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation told HealthDay, "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."
Long added, "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."
If you or someone you know is a victim of dating violence, know that it is not your fault and you are not alone. Talk to an adult, teacher or call one of the resources below for help.
To learn more about teen dating violence and what healthy relationships look like, go to loveisrespect.org.
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