Teen victims of violence tend to date and enter into romantic relationships at an earlier age, according to a new American Sociological Review study. On average, victimized youth begin romantic relationships about nine months earlier than non-victimized youth.
To assess victimization, the researchers analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health in which young people had reported direct experience with four types of trauma: being “jumped,” shot, stabbed, or threatened by a knife or gun.
In addition to dating, the findings show that teen victims of violence also began cohabiting more quickly than their peers — again, nine months earlier.
“They start forming unions about nine months earlier too so, you’re really talking sort of 18 months ahead of schedule,” said lead author Tara Warner from the University of Nebraska.
These victimized teens appear to “overinvest in relationships — at least temporarily — displaying accelerated entry into dating and rapid progression to first unions,” write the researchers in their paper, titled “Cut to the Quick: The Consequences of Youth Violent Victimization for the Timing of Dating Debut and First Union Formation,” published in the journal American Sociological Review.
Researcher David Warner, Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests that these relationships could be a feasible coping mechanism since dating is more normative in adolescence.
Warner explained that for victimized teens, relationships may provide “a source of social support, a resource for instilling and improving self-esteem… particularly for these older adolescent victims who are also on the precipice of a number of developmental changes as they enter into high school.”
However, even though early relationships may have some positive aspects, entering into one on average nine months earlier may be problematic. Nine months he says is “a whole different story for someone twelve or thirteen than for someone in their thirties.”
Past research shows that early cohabitation is fraught with risks including an increased risk of experiencing intimate partner violence, communication problems, and other negative outcomes.
The researchers also discovered that the violence-dating link varied by age but not by gender, which they found surprising. For example, those victimized in early adolescence were more likely to withdraw from dating and union formation rather than rush in.
Tara Warner warns that both withdrawal and increased social activity could be symptomatic. For adolescents who are accelerating through relationships, she suggests the best advice is to “slow down.” “If [young people] can slow down a little bit, the literature would suggest that would be the most positive outcome.”