Abstract: Ninth Grade Students' Perceptions of Dating and Dating Violence: A Focus Group Study (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

24P Ninth Grade Students' Perceptions of Dating and Dating Violence: A Focus Group Study

Friday, January 15, 2010
* noted as presenting author
Patricia M. Reeves, PhD , University of Georgia, Associate Professor, Athens, GA
Purpose: Healthy Teens is a 3-year, mixed-method, longitudinal study of social competence development in students who have been followed from middle to high school. Dating and dating violence were the focus of Year I in this CDC-funded study. Although there is a growing body of quantitative research on dating and dating violence, students' perspectives about these issues are largely absent. Twelve focus groups (6 female, 6 male) were conducted with 9th grade students from 6 high schools in Northeast Georgia. The purpose of the study was to explore students' perceptions about dating, dating violence, and the ways adults can help students desist from involvement in dating aggression.

Methods: Focus groups were utilized to meet two of the five Healthy Teen objectives: (1) Understand the meaning of different forms of aggression-related behaviors from students' perspectives, and (2) Explore perceptions of students and the environmental circumstances related to desistance from or movement toward aggression in regard to specific protective factors. Twelve focus groups (6 schools; 2 focus groups—one male, one female—at each school) were conducted over a two-month period of time. Each 45-60 minute focus group consisted of 6-10 randomly selected, 9th grade students and was facilitated by the presenting author. Random sampling, unlike purposeful sampling, enhances external validity of the study's findings. Six PhD students co-facilitated the focus groups, as well as recorded observations and field notes. Focus group interviews were audio taped and transcribed verbatim. Data were analyzed, using the constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1067), over a four-month period of time.

Results: Five predominant findings emerged from data analysis: (1) Students use different names for dating, define it broadly, and view it as a developmental phenomenon; (2) There is greater support for female-to-male aggression, although dating aggression is viewed negatively by both females and males; (3) Physical dating aggression mirrors a pattern common in adult intimate partner violence (IPV); (4) Students learn appropriate dating behaviors from variety of individuals and institutions, particularly parents; and (5) Students perceive adults in the school environment are invested in their academic success but not in their social development, and they desire greater adult involvement.

Conclusions and Implications: Dating aggression—physical, verbal, and relational—is openly acknowledged by students and should be considered a public health problem. Of special concern are students involved in physical violence, a group often engaged in other risky behaviors and one that has fewer assets. Focus group participants underscored the importance of having adults in their lives that they can talk to about dating concerns as well as learn from, especially in regard to dating expectations and problem-solving skills. Social workers, particularly those who work in school and other community settings, are ideally positioned to serve students in this capacity. This presentation addresses how social workers can better serve the growing population of students involved in violence-related behaviors.