Examining Potential Pathways to Adolescent Dating Violence and the Impact of Youth Relationship Education on Common Correlates of Adolescent Dating Violence
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
Human Development and Family Studies
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Romantic relationships play a significant role in adolescent development and set the framework for future relationship behaviors (Collins, 2003; Collins & Steinberg, 2006; Kerpelman et al., 2010). A national study recently revealed that roughly two-thirds of adolescents have been involved in an unhealthy or abusive relationship (Taylor & Mumford, 2016). Thus, there is a recent effort to focus on identifying the predictors of dating violence experiences as well as the effects of promising prevention efforts such as youth relationship education on reducing rates of adolescent dating violence. Building upon the existing literature, this two-study dissertation examined the potential processes through which the transmission of violence from parents to adolescents occurs as well as the impact of youth relationship education on common correlates of adolescent dating violence and dating violence experiences. The purpose of the first study was to develop a clearer understanding of the transmission of violence by examining the direct and indirect effects of exposure to interparental violence (IPV) and parents’ IPV acceptance on adolescents’ dating violence perpetration and victimization. In addition to being one of the first studies to consider the potential impact of parents’ IPV acceptance on adolescents’ dating violence experiences, this study is also one of few to test the individual effects of IPV exposure, adolescents’ dating violence acceptance, adolescents’ gender role beliefs, and parents’ IPV acceptance on the frequency of adolescents’ overall, physical, and psychological dating violence perpetration and victimization. Utilizing a nationally-representative sample of adolescents and their parents (n = 512; Mage = 15.39 years), I tested the potential mediating effects of adolescents’ dating violence acceptance and traditional gender role beliefs on the effects of exposure to IPV and parents’ self-reported IPV acceptance on adolescents’ dating violence experiences. Results from this study reveal two common themes: (1) measurement of dating violence and IPV exposure matters and (2) parents’ experiences and attitudes matter. I found support for the direct transmission of violence from IPV exposure to adolescents’ dating violence experiences; however there was limited evidence of adolescents’ dating violence acceptance and gender role beliefs serving as mediators. I also found direct effects of parents’ IPV acceptance on adolescents’ physical dating violence experiences and an indirect effect on adolescents’ psychological dating violence experiences through both adolescents’ dating violence acceptance and gender role beliefs, suggesting that parents have the ability to either enhance or lessen children’s vulnerability for unhealthy relationship experiences. These findings also support the need for more complex measures of both IPV exposure and dating violence experiences. This study advanced the dating violence literature by measuring physical and psychological dating violence perpetration and victimization separately and using a frequency score rather than focusing solely on the absence or presence of violence. In doing so, I found differential mediating effects by type of violence. Thus these findings provide a novel perspective on the transmission of violence; specifically, the ways in which parents and experiences within the home are directly or indirectly related to adolescents’ dating violence experiences. Additionally, the evidence from this suggests that programs seeking to prevent adolescent dating violence may consider targeting adolescents’ dating violence acceptance and traditional gender role beliefs, as they are direct predictors of adolescents’ dating violence experiences. The purpose of the second study was to determine the directional nature of the relationship between dating violence acceptance and gender role beliefs in a diverse sample of youth relationship education participants (N = 1,902; Mage = 15.62 years) up to six months following program completion. This was the first study to determine the directional nature of the relationship between dating violence acceptance and gender role beliefs. It was also the first to test the comparative impact of both dating violence acceptance and gender role beliefs on physical dating violence perpetration and victimization up to six months after the program as well as the potential moderating effect of gender on these associations. Adolescents’ pre-program gender role beliefs significantly predicted dating violence acceptance immediately following the program, such that adolescents with more traditional gender role beliefs at the start of the program were more accepting of dating violence immediately following the program. On average, adolescents’ higher dating violence acceptance, but not gender role beliefs, at baseline predicted higher rates of dating violence perpetration immediately following the program and greater increases in perpetration between pre- and post-program for boys, but not girls. Pre-program dating violence acceptance was also a stronger predictor of post-program victimization for boys than girls. Higher pre-program dating violence acceptance was associated with greater increases in victimization for boys than girls between pre- and post-program. Although studies of youth relationship education have demonstrated significant shifts towards less traditional gender role beliefs for some adolescents (Savasuk-Luxton et al., 2018), this is not explicitly addressed nor is it a primary outcome of interest in most relationship education studies. The results of this study seem to suggest that, considering the direct effect of gender role beliefs on dating violence acceptance, incorporating a discussion or lesson on gender role beliefs in youth relationship education may have widespread benefits.