Method: As part of a larger study, Mexican American (n=41) and White (n=34) adolescents were asked to share their romantic relationship experiences. Recruitment of adolescents (M=16.04 years, SD=.83) entering grades 10, 11, or 12 (M= 11.12; SD= .75) was done through community program coordinators (53% of sample), high schools (32%), and word-of-mouth (15%). Open-ended questions were posed during 12 focus group sessions (n= 6 – 8 participants per group). Groups were divided by gender and ethnicity, resulting in three groups of Mexican American boys, Mexican American girls, White boys and White girls. Coding of verbatim transcripts was done by two independent coders using inductive content analysis (α = .83). Responses coded throughout the transcripts were weighed based on descriptions, examples, or personal experience.
Results: Four distinct categories of violence emerged: emotional/verbal (e.g., insults, controlling behavior), physical (e.g., hitting), sexual (e.g., manipulation or coercion), and relational (intentionally harming a partner's reputation). Mexican American girls most often mentioned having been the victim or perpetrator of emotional/verbal or physical violence, as well as having been the victim of sexual coercion. White girls mentioned having been the victim or perpetrator of emotional/verbal violence, and reported victimization in regards to physical abuse and sexual coercion. Mexican American adolescent boys had the lowest amount of responses in all categories, but did mention having been the victim of relational and emotional/verbal abuse. White adolescent boys gave the highest amount of responses regarding being the victim of relational abuse, with little to no mention of any other forms. Overall, Mexican American girls mentioned abuse more often than any other group, especially regarding controlling or manipulative partners. Moreover, they reported being perpetrators of physical abuse more than any other group.
Conclusions and Implications: The purpose of the original investigation was to examine adolescents' experiences with romantic relationships; however, experiences of violence were discussed throughout most focus group sessions. Targeted education on the benefits of seeking professional assistance for adolescents in abusive romantic relationships may decrease the likelihood of victimization and perpetration. Additionally, understanding the context of adolescents' experiences with dating violence may elicit stronger communication patterns between youth and practitioners. This will serve to increase the social worker's ability to encourage healthy romantic relationship development during adolescence.