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Violence in teen relationships

Violence in teen relationships

February 23, 2024

Many young people and adolescents do not pay much attention to violence in their relationships, tend to believe that it is a problem that affects adults exclusively. However, during the engagement may appear important etiological factors of gender violence that occurs in adult couples.

Violence in young couples: why does it happen?

Violence in relationships is a problem that affects all ages, races, social classes and religions. It is a social and health problem that due to its high incidence has produced an important social alarm at the moment due to both the gravity of the facts and the negativity of its consequences.

The concept of violence in adolescent couple relationships has been defined by different authors. International research employs the term "dating aggression and / or dating violence", in Spain, the term most used is that of violence in adolescent couple relationships or violence in dating relationships.

Defining this type of violence

Ryan Shorey, Gregory Stuart and Tara Cornelius define violence in dating relationships as those behaviors that involve physical, psychological or sexual aggression between the members of a couple in the courtship . Other authors, highlight that it is about that violence that implies any attempt to dominate or control a person physically, psychologically and / or sexually, causing some kind of damage.

Compulsory reading: "The 30 signs of psychological abuse in a relationship"

From psychology, various authors try to explain the causes of this violence in relationships between adolescents. Although there are currently few studies that have addressed theoretically the origin and maintenance of violence in these couples, There is a tendency to explain it from classic theories about aggressiveness or linked to ideas about gender violence in adult couples.

Below are some of the theories and theoretical models most relevant, but not all, to shed some light on this problem.

Attachment Theory

John Bowlby (1969) proposes that people shape their relationship style from the interactions and relationships they established during childhood with the main attachment figures (mother and father). These interactions they influence both the onset and the development of aggressive behavior .

According to this theory, adolescents from homes in which they observed and / or suffered mistreatment, which show problems in regulating their emotions, low abilities to solve problems and / or lower self-confidence, aspects that may also be due to previous, would show greater probabilities of establishing conflicting couple relationships.

From this perspective, the aggressions in adolescence would be originated by the negative experiences in childhood , such as aggressive behaviors in parents, child abuse, insecure attachment, etc., and at the same time influence the occurrence of dysfunctional patterns in adulthood. However, we can not ignore that personal experiences involve a process of individual elaboration that would allow to modify these patterns.

Deepening: "The Theory of Attachment and the bond between parents and children"

Theory of Social Learning

Proposed by Albert Bandura in 1973 focused on the concepts of modeling and social learning, explains how childhood learning occurs through imitation of what we observe .

The aggressive behaviors in the adolescent couple relationship, would be produced by learning them either from personal experience or by witnessing relationships in which there is violence. So, People who experience or are exposed to violence will show a greater likelihood of manifesting violent behavior in comparison to those who have not experienced or been exposed to it.

However, we must consider that each person carries out a process of building their own about their experience and is not limited to copying the conflict resolution strategies of the parents. Further, Some studies have found that not all adolescents who have perpetrated or have been victims of aggression in their partners, in their childhood they experienced or witnessed aggressive behaviors in their homes, among their friends or with previous partners.

Feminist Perspective

Authors such as Lenore Walker (1989) explains that violence in couples has its origin in unequal social distribution based on gender , which produces greater power for men with respect to women.According to this perspective, women are seen as an object of control and domination by the patriarchal system through the principles of social learning theory, the sociocultural values ​​of patriarchy and gender inequality, transmitted and learned at the individual level. Gender violence is violence whose purpose is to maintain control and / or control in an unequal relationship, in which both members have received different socialization.

This theoretical perspective has been adapted to violence in adolescent relationships, considering the multiple evidences of the influence exerted by traditional belief systems on gender roles, both in the appearance and in the maintenance of violence. This adaptation explains and analyzes why the aggressions that the boys discuss, tend to be more serious, and analyze the possible differences between both genders, for example with regard to the consequences.

Theory of Social Exchange

Proposed by George C. Homans (1961), indicates that people's motivation lies in obtaining rewards and in reducing or eliminating costs in their relationships . Thus, a person's behavior will vary depending on the amount and type of reward that he or she will receive.

So, violence in relationships is used as a way to reduce costs , gaining through greater aggression control and power. The search for control by the aggressor would be related to the reduction of another of the possible costs of relationships, uncertainty, not knowing what the other thinks, what he does, where he is, etc. In this line, the smaller the reciprocity in a given interaction, the greater the probability of emotional behavior based on anger or violence.

In turn, such behaviors will produce that the individual feels disadvantaged and will increase the possibility that the interaction becomes more dangerous and violent. Thus the main benefit of violence is the acquisition of dominion over another individual and the likelihood of a violent exchange ending, increase when the costs of violent behavior are greater than the benefits it produces.

Cognitive-Behavioral Approach

Centers the explanation of violence in relationships of couple in cognitions and cognitive processes, highlighting that people seek consistency between their thoughts and between these and their behaviors . The presence of cognitive distortions or inconsistencies between them, will produce negative emotions that can lead to the appearance of violence.

However, the cognitive-behavioral approach has focused more on the explanation of the cognitive distortions that occur in the aggressors for example, in the same situation in which the couple is not present, the aggressor will be more likely to think that their couple has not waited at home in order to annoy you or as a way to disrespect him, which will produce negative emotions, on the other hand a person who is not an aggressor, will think that this is because his partner will be busy or having fun and it will produce positive emotions and you will be happy about it.

Ecological model

It was raised by Urie Bronfenbrenner (1987) and adapted by White (2009) to explain the violence in the couple relationships, changing its name to socio-ecological model. Explain the violence in couple relationships through four levels ranging from the most general to the most concrete: social, community, interpersonal and individual. In each of the levels there are factors that increase or decrease the risk of perpetration of violence or victimization .

Thus violent behavior in a relationship would be placed in this model at the individual level and would develop due to the previous influence of the other levels. This influence of the different levels, comes from the traditional vision of division of power in society in favor of men, as in the Feminist Theory.

Submits that violent behaviors against the couple are influenced by beliefs at a social level (for example, the distribution of work for men and women, sexual division of power), at the community level (such as the integration of gender-differentiated social relations integrated into schools, workplaces, social institutions, etc.), at the interpersonal (like the beliefs of both members of the couple about how the relationship should be), and at the individual level (for example, what the individual thinks about what is "appropriate" or not in a relationship). Those behaviors that fail to meet these expectations assumed by gender will increase the likelihood of violent behavior and will use these beliefs to justify the use of violence.


Currently there are various theories or perspectives, there has been some scientific progress in this field and new research has been interested in explaining the violence in sentimental relationships of adolescents, reviewing traditional theories and those theories that focus on any type of violence interpersonal

However, despite the recent scientific progress in this area, there are still many unknowns to be solved that allow us to get to know the individual factors as relational about the origin, causes and maintenance of dating violence. This advance would help adolescents both identify if they suffer violence from their partner and prevent its appearance, as well as identify those factors that can cause gender violence in adult couples and start their prevention from adolescence.

Bibliographic references:

  • Fernández-Fuertes, A. A. (2011). The prevention of aggressive behaviors in young adolescent couples. In R. J. Carcedo, & V. Guijo, Violence in adolescent and young couples: How to understand and prevent it. (pp. 87-99). Salamanca: Amarú Editions.
  • Gelles, R. J. (2004). Social factors. In J. Sanmartín, (Eds.), The Labyrinth of Violence. Causes, types and effects. (pp. 47-56.). Barcelona: Ariel.
  • R.C. Shorey, G.L. Stuart, T.L. Cornelius (2011) Dating Violence and Substance Use in College Students: A review of the Literature. Aggressive and Violent Behavior, 16 (2011), pp. 541-550 //
  • Smith, P.H., White, J.W., & Moracco, K.E. (2009). Becoming who we are: A theoretical explanation of gendered social structures and social networks that shape adolescent interpersonal aggression. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 33 (1), 25-29.
  • Walker, L. (1989). Psychology and Violence against women. American Journal of Psychological Association, 44 (4), 695-702.
  • Wekerle, C., & Wolfe, D. A. (1998). The role of child maltreatment and attachment style in adolescent relationship violence. Development and Psychopathology, 10, 571-586.

Teen Dating Violence (February 2024).

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