teens holding handsOne of the questions I ask every teen I meet is whether or not they’re in any kind of intimate relationship. Much of the time the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘I have been.’ My follow up question is usually about how their partner treats them and whether or not they feel safe. A recent study has looked at the association between athletics and intimate partner violence. The results surprised me.

In the study, researchers asked ~1,600 boys who were participating in a school based program on coaching boys into men about dating and their sports participation. They first asked about gender equitable attitudes in their sport (generally whether or not boys and girls were equal). They then asked if the teen had been in a heterosexual (with only a female partner) relationship for more than a week and if they had every perpetrated any of 10 different abusive acts (including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse). What they found was that boys who played both football and basketball held less equitable attitudes about gender and sports. Those boys who played both football and basketball or just football alone were more likely to have been abusive in a relationship.

Does this mean that boys who play basketball and football are going to abuse their girlfriends? No, but it does make me think that it might be hard to ‘turn off’ the aggressive behavior that is encouraged on the court or playing field when not in the game. The promising part of this study was that the boys who received violence prevention messages from coaches were less likely to be abusive.

The Centers for Disease Control reported in 2011 that 9.4% of high school students had been hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by a partner. They also found that 8% had been forced to have sex. Dating violence amongst adolescents is preventable, but we as adult role models, definitely have more work to do to recognize when dating violence is occurring and prevent the behaviors.

Warning signs that a teen may be in an abusive relationship:

  • social isolation
  • their partner checks their email/cell phone/social network page without permission
  • put downs/name calling either face to face on via social media
  • extreme jealousy from a partner
  • a partner is possessive/controlling
  • physical injury

Here are some great websites for information on dating violence prevention:

Violence Prevention works

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Office of Adolescent Health

Love is Not Abuse (LINA)