Almost one-fifth of high-school students admit they physically abused someone they were dating, and those same students were likely to have abused other students and their siblings, a new study finds.
The study provides new details about the links between various types of violence, said study lead author Emily F. Rothman, an associate professor at the Boston University School of Public Health.
"There's a huge overall connection between perpetration of dating violence and the perpetration of other forms of youth violence," she said. "The majority of students who were being violent with their dating partners were generally violent. They weren't selecting their dating partners specifically for violence."
Abusive teens studied
For the study, published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the researchers surveyed 1,398 urban high school students at 22 schools in Boston in 2008 and asked if they had physically hurt a girlfriend or boyfriend, sibling or peer within the previous month.
The authors define physical abuse as "pushing, shoving, slapping, hitting, punching, kicking, or choking." Playful aggression was excluded.
More than 41% said they'd physically hurt another kid on at least one occasion the previous month; 31.2% reported that they'd physically abused their siblings, and nearly 19% said they'd abused their boyfriend, girlfriend, someone they were dating or someone they were simply having sex with.
Among those admitted to dating violence, 9.9% reported kicking, hitting, or choking a partner; 17.6% said they had shoved or slapped a partner, and 42.8% had cursed at or called him or her "fat," "ugly," "stupid" or a similar insult.
More girls abuse boys
Proportionately more girls than boys (27% versus 10%) reported they'd abused dating partners.
After adjusting for factors including age and specific schools, the researchers found that abuse of dating partners was strongly linked to abuse of other students, especially among boys.
Students who used drugs, carried knives or had been in trouble with the law were also more likely to abuse their dating partners. And those who had witnessed community violence were also more likely to engage in violence.
These findings are consistent with research on adult male batterers, which has shown that domestic violence often accompanies other violent and criminal behaviour, the authors said.
The study has some caveats, however. The students only came from public high schools. Those who weren't recently dating were excluded, and the findings were self-reported. Also, motives were not examined, so it's unknown if any teens acted in self-defence.
Still, the results can help people who work with teenagers detect dating violence, Rothman said.
Addressing violent behaviour in teens
"This study supports the idea that we should go to those kids who are being violent with siblings and peers and address their violent behaviour in general," she said.
Monica Swahn, an associate professor at Georgia State University's Institute of Public Health whose research includes violence and injury epidemiology, said the study findings give researchers insight into how they may reduce teens' abusive behaviour by targeting more than one type of violence.
However, few anti-violence programmes for school children have been shown to be effective, she said.
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