The ubiquity of social media and the Internet creates new avenues for non-physical abuse by a dating partner.
A new Michigan State study suggests online exhibits of controlling behavior and harassing text messages can have a serious effect on a teenager’s health and well-being.
The study is one of the first to examine the effects of both physical and non-physical dating abuse — particularly relevant to today’s highly connected adolescents.
The study found a total of 67.4 percent of females and 57.1 percent of males reported dating violence victimization from age 13 to 19.
Non-physical dating violence victimization occurred more frequently than physical/sexual violence, with 64.6 percent of females and 56.4 percent of males indicating they experienced this type of dating violence. Various types of non-physical abuse varied; for example, being yelled at, sworn at, or insulted was the most common type of non-physical abuse for females (47.6 percent) and males (40.7 percent).
As discussed in the research journal BMC Public Health, non-physical abuse such as stalking through text messages or email, damages the health and behavior of adolescents in much the same manner as physical and sexual violence.
“Often an argument in society is that abuse that is not physical or sexual really doesn’t matter,” said Amy Bonomi, Ph.D., M.P.H., lead researcher.
“Is it really harmful, for example, if I call my partner a bad name? Or if I’m harassing or stalking them with text messages? Well, we’ve shown that it does have a negative effect on health.”
Bonomi and colleagues surveyed 585 college students about their dating experiences and health histories.
Compared to non-abused females, females who had been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner when they were between the ages of 13 and 19 were nearly four times more likely to smoke.
They also were more than four times as likely to develop certain eating disorders and were at increased risk of depression and engaging in risky sexual behavior.
But females who had been victims of non-physical abuse were nearly as likely to take up smoking. They also were at increased risk of depression, eating disorders and engaging in risky sexual behavior.
For males, no health differences were observed for those experiencing physical and sexual dating violence compared to those who did not. Interestingly, however, males who experienced non-physical dating abuse were much more likely to smoke and develop certain eating disorders.
Taken as a whole, Bonomi said the findings point to the need for developing programs to prevent dating violence in all its forms and to intervene when it occurs. These programs, she added, should be targeted to students starting in elementary school.
“One of the things that we need to do better at society is to have conversations very early with young people — both females and males — about healthy relationship strategies,” Bonomi said. “We often wait too long — until middle school and even high school — to begin talking to girls and boys about relationship skills, if we even talk about it at all.”
Source: Michigan State University
Reference: Bonomi, AE, et al. (2013). History of dating violence and the association with late adolescent health. BMC Public Health. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-821