Advancing Our Approach to Teen Dating Violence: A Youth and Professional Defined Framework of Teen Dating Relationships

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Objective: Little research has considered how well assumptions about teen dating relationships that guide teen dating violence (TDV) work actually align with youth perspective and experience. This study aimed to better understand areas of convergence and divergence in how youth and adult professionals conceptualize and define teen dating relationships to more fully inform TDV research, programming, and policy. Method: Concept mapping—an inductive, participatory approach—was used to capture, compare, and visually represent perspectives of teen dating relationships across samples of teens ages 14 to 18 (N = 147), young adults ages 19 to 22 (N = 81), and adult professionals (N = 76). Researchers conducted subsequent facilitated discussions with these 3 groups. Results: A single concept map coauthored by youth and professionals described teen dating relationships using 100 ideas, 9 higher-order constructs, and 2 conceptual dimensions. Across groups, substantial agreement emerged on the characteristics of teen dating and their interrelationships. Participants conceptualized dating relationships as multidimensional, consisting of a range of behaviors, emotions, and cognitions that vary in their frequency and desirability. Relationships were also characterized by temporally oriented phases that can shape teens’ perceptions of their dating experiences. Conclusion: The findings suggest that professionals are studying TDV and developing related programming from a conceptual basis that comports with youth dating experience. Nevertheless, the complexity of teen dating presents a need for researchers and practitioners to expand their focus to more effectively address the social and behavioral processes through which TDV unfolds. Efforts should more holistically consider relevant aspects of dating relationships, including the confluence of healthy and unhealthy characteristics with emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components.

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