The first qualitative study of teenage boys who abuse their girlfriends found that the combined environments of school, home and the community affect a young man’s tendency to abuse, according to UC Davis research in collaboration with Harvard University.
The study was published in the September issue of the American Journal of Men’s Health and investigates the environments surrounding young male perpetrators in order to discern what causes their abusive tendencies.
UC Davis assistant professor of pediatrics at the UC Davis Children’s Hospital, Dr. Elizabeth Reed, was the senior author of the study.
“Until now, we did not have much information on young men who hurt their partners. This is a critically important piece of the puzzle in terms of designing meaningful prevention and intervention programs to prevent adolescent violence,” Reed said in a press release.
Dr. Reed, along with Elizabeth Miller, a post-doctoral fellow at Duke University – interviewed 19 boys from metropolitan Boston. The boys ranged in ages from 14 to 20 and had known histories of abusing intimate partners. Reed also used information from her 2007 study of 825 Boston area youths that assessed factors related to teen dating violence among those that capitalized on confidential adolescent health clinics.
Reed and Miller found that typical explanations for abusive tendencies in adolescent males – specifically, substance abuse and “traditional attitudes” toward females – were not adequate. The researchers felt that looking at the individual was not enough to pinpoint the exact cause of abusive attitudes.
“We need to look beyond individuals to see how environments play a role in this important public health problem.… The themes that often came up in interviews included problematic home environments, inadequate support at school, community contexts characterized by violence and peer interactions that encourage the sexual maltreatment of girls,” Reed said.
Miller and Reed agree that more research needs to be done in order to prescribe the most effective form of abuse prevention. Prevention that allocates support through mentorship and within the home would be the most effective, according to the study.
“We really need to do meaningful prevention that addresses the failures of the structures and systems in place that are supposed to support these boys. For example, the lack of positive mentorship and support at home and in school are key factors,” Miller said.
Miller is currently conducting a study on a teen abuse prevention program called Coaching Boys into Men, which is sponsored by the Family Violence Prevention Program.
Brian O’Connor, director of communications for Coaching Boys into Men, explains that their job is to mentor young men. Often using athletic coaches to explain that violence does not equate to strength.
“Boys are exposed to numerous, often conflicting messages about what it means to be a man,” O’Connor said. “Some of those messages are harmful, and promote or sanction disrespect and violence. That’s why the Family Violence Prevention Fund is working to encourage men to spend time with boys and stress the importance of respect, honor and responsibility.“
In addition to her study of Coaching Boys into Men, Miller is attempting to bring the group’s resources to the greater area of Sacramento. O’Connor hopes Coaching Boys into Men will eventually be available to communities nationwide in order to prevent teen abuse.
“Teen dating violence prevention is a relatively new field,” O’Connor said. “We need greater awareness, more research into the causes of this violence and the most effective forms of prevention, and increased resources to test and implement promising programs.“
MEGAN ELLIS can be reached at email@example.com.