Inclusion of parents and LGBTQ youth in teen dating violence research and prevention programs: A review of current research

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by Cristina McAllister M.S., Kathleen Rodgers Ph.D. and Hilary Rose Ph.D., CFLE

Introduction

In North America, teen dating violence among adolescents is a significant health concern. LGBTQ youth disproportionately experience bullying, peer aggression, suicide and peer harassment. In the United States, 1 in 9 adolescent women and 1 in 12 adolescent males have experienced a form of TDV (CDC, 2020). The 2017 National School Climate Survey in the United States indicated that in a nationally representative sample of 23,001 students, 57.3% of LGBTQ students were sexually harassed in the past year at school (Kosciw et al., 2017). In Canada, 7% of youth experience dating or other intimate partner violence before 17 years of age (Conroy et al., 2018). The 2019 Canadian Trans and Non-Binary Youth Health survey found that out of 1,519 trans and non-binary youth from across various provinces and territories in Canada, 28% of these teens were sexually assaulted, and 30% had been physically hurt by a date (Taylor et al., 2020).

Teen dating violence (TDV) is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2020) as a type of intimate partner violence that includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological aggression, and stalking that can take place in person or electronically (para. 1).

Despite the high rates of TDV among LGBTQ teens, few prevention programs specifically target this audience (Human Rights Campaign, ND). Additionally, although research identifies families as an important context for learning about romantic relationships (Whitaker & Miller, 2000), few prevention programs appear to involve parents. Furthermore, most IPV research has focused primarily on heteronormative youth without taking into consideration the intersection of race.

Little is known about the prevalence of research on parental involvement and the needs of LGBTQ teen dating violence prevention programming. This review will (1) illuminate how often research includes or targets the needs of LGBTQ adolescents, and (2) how often TDV research and prevention practices engage parents.

TDV Prevention Programs in the United States and Canada

The primary focus of TDV research in the United States and Canada is to understand why teens perpetrate or are victims of dating violence, and how TDV impacts teenagers. Twenty-two articles of 85 identified had US samples, and 3 of 17 had Canadian samples, focused on prevention and intervention programming primarily implemented in schools. Our search identified the following programs most frequently: Safe Dates, Coaching Boys into Men, Dating Matters, Expect Respect, Start Strong, and Teen Choices. Programs less frequently identified were: Discovery Dating, Familias En Nuestra Escuela, Love U2, It’s Your Game, Lucidity (narrative based computer game), and Bringing in the Bystander. Many of these programs target “high-risk” adolescent populations, but they do not address specific risks that LGBTQ teens face.

Intersectionality and TDV research

Out of 102 articles retrieved with US and Canadian samples, very few addressed TDV among LGBTQ youth (see Table 1 for article break down by LGBTQ inclusion). Measuring gender identity with a single survey question was common in studies. Often, this single LGBTQ survey question was never discussed again in these papers. Only 3 articles with US samples specifically discussed and analyzed LGBTQ youth and TDV beyond asking about gender on a survey. Among studies with Canadian samples, articles largely did not measure whether teens identified as heterosexual or LGBTQ.

Table 1. Count of Articles by Sexual Orientation and Location

  United States Canada
LGBTQ Youth Only 3 0
LGBTQ measured; No Further Analysis 14 3
LGBTQ Not Measured 68 14
Total Articles Retrieved (102): 85 17

Our search revealed that, white non-Hispanic populations are the primary focus of research (see Table 2 for article break down by race). These results illustrate common research trends seen in the US and Canada. The racial make-up of these two countries is largely reflected by the numbers seen in table two. In most cases, non-white racial groups are collapsed into singular groups for analysis. This is problematic because the cultural diversity that exists within racial groups is not revealed.

Table 2. Count of Articles by Study Sample Race and Location

  United States Canada
White 30 10
Black 23 0
Hispanic 14 0
Asian 1 0
Indigenous/Native American 1 0
Mix of Races 10 1
Race not measured 6 6
Total Articles Retrieved (102): 85 17

Our literature review illustrates a strong need for researchers of TDV to be more intentionally intersectional. The findings from our search revealed a limited scope of intersectionality in research focused on adolescent romantic relationships and dating violence. This is problematic because the experiences of indigenous, black, Hispanic, and Asian youth tend to be different from Caucasian peers who do not have to navigate systemic racism. With both North American countries having diverse populations, it is critical that TDV researchers acknowledge hardships faced by different racial groups and sexual orientation.

Parents and Dating Violence Prevention

Parents have the potential to mitigate the effects of TDV by engaging in regular conversations about dating and romantic relationships and providing a supportive environment for their child (Rogers et al., 2015). More evaluation research is needed to understand parents’ role in preventing TDV.

A primary challenge for parents is how to have a conversation with their teen about teen dating violence. In a focus group study, researchers found that parents and teens differ in the types of comments they make about TDV (Black & Preble, 2016). Parents tended to provide information about TDV without addressing their child’s specific situation. In contrast, teens in the study said they wanted parents to provide “comfort and support” but without lecturing while talking about TDV (Black & Preble, 2016, p. 152).

Researchers suggest that TDV programs for LGBTQ youth should address relevant sexuality-sensitive topics (Flores & Barroso, 2017).

LGBTQ teens with supportive families may benefit from parent-child discussions about healthy romantic relationships. However, involving parents in programming about healthy romantic relationships could pose a potentially harmful situation for LGBTQ teens who are not “out” or who have unsupportive parents (Bouris et al., 2010; Flores et al., 2019).

TDV Prevention Research Moving Forward

TDV prevention research has made progress over the last decade, but there are areas for improvement.

  1. There is a need to research, identify, and design TDV programs with components (modules) that can be modified to meet targeted population needs, such as for LGBTQ youth, while also maintaining core curriculum components that have demonstrated effectiveness.
  2. There is a substantial lack of research surrounding the needs and experiences of LGBTQ and non-Caucasian youth with TDV. Without more research on the TDV experiences of LGBTQ and diverse youth populations beyond Caucasians, current TDV may fail to address the unique concerns of LGBTQ and adolescents of color.
  3. There is a need for prevention programs to better incorporate parents in programming. Parents can benefit from knowing more about how to help their child succeed in healthy romantic relationships. Current research studies provide limited educational resources for parents on how to talk with teens about TDV.

These are initial steps towards understanding how TDV research can address the needs of all youth by including parents when appropriate, and by increasing inclusivity of diverse dating and romantic relationship experiences among all youth. Our review will help illuminate more inclusive research and programming on teen dating violence.

About the Authors

Cristina McAllister M.S., Kathleen Rodgers Ph.D. and Hilary Rose Ph.D., CFLE from Washington State University review their current research.

References