By Denise Mann
Teens in abusive relationships may be more likely to develop emotional problems and substance abuse issues as they age, a new study suggests.
The study included more than 5,600 12- to 18-year-olds who had been in one or more relationships with someone of the opposite sex back in 1996. Of these, about a third said they had experienced teen dating violence, including emotional and physical abuse.
Participants were asked if they had ever been called names, insulted, or treated disrespectfully by their partner. They were also asked if they had been threatened with violence, pushed, shoved, or had something thrown at them.
Five years later, those who answered yes to any of these questions were more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors. Specifically, girls who reported experiencing dating violence as teens were more likely to binge drink, have symptoms of depression, smoke, and think about killing themselves as young adults, compared with girls who were in healthier relationships.
By contrast, boys who reported dating violence during their teen years were more likely to be antisocial, think about suicide, and use marijuana as young adults than boys who did not report any dating violence or abuse.
Males and females who were in physically abusive relationships as teens were also two to three times more likely to be in violent relationships at ages 18 to 25, the study shows.
The findings appear in Pediatrics.
What Is a Healthy Teen Dating Relationship?
“Children and teens need to know what it means to be in a healthy dating relationship,” says researcher Deinera Exner-Cortens of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. “Parents, teachers, and health care providers all have a role to play in encouraging healthy relationships and modeling respect, trust, and open communication.”
In other words, it’s "do as I say and do as I do" when teaching kids what a healthy relationship looks like, she says.
It’s not just dating violence that sets children up for health and emotional problems, says Metee Comkornruecha, MD, an adolescent medicine specialist at Miami Children's Hospital in Florida. “When children are exposed to any sort of violence or insult, unfortunately it does affect their psyche,” he says. “The study shows how important it is for pediatricians to screen for teen dating violence and prevent and/or treat these negative health outcomes.”
What do these kids look like?
“They may be isolated from their parents or peers and may not do the things they used to enjoy because their partner is keeping them from going out with friends,” he says. “When it comes time to go out on dates, they don't seem as happy as they used to be.”