Teen dating violence (TDV) is a significant public health issue. TDV is defined as physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional violence, including stalking, occurring between current or former teen dating partners (CDC, 2018). Among a 2017 nationally representative sample of high school students who reported dating in the past year, 8.0% experienced physical dating violence victimization and 6.9% experienced sexual dating violence victimization in the past year; prevalence estimates for TDV also vary by sex, with girls reporting higher victimization rates than boys for both physical dating violence (9.1% vs. 6.5%) and sexual dating violence (10.7% vs. 2.8%) (Kann et al., 2018). Limited information exists on effective TDV perpetration prevention strategies (De La Rue, Polanin, Espelage, & Pigott, 2017; Whitaker et al., 2006). Thus, the goal of the current study is to fill a gap in the literature by expanding our understanding of pertinent protective factors for TDV perpetration and examining whether these protective factors differ for males and females. Using a resilience framework (Masten & Monn, 2015), we conceptualized these factors as protective against violence, controlling for other negative exposures, because this conceptualization allowed us to assess whether protective skills promote healthy development over time in adolescents with or without adversity. Consistent with Vagi et al. (2013)’s review we focused on relational protective factors of interest including empathy, social support (peer, family, and school), parental monitoring, and school belongingness.
Understanding what protects adolescents from the risk of teen dating violence perpetration is critical to enhancing prevention efforts. This study examined longitudinal trajectories of four potential protective factors for TDV (empathy, social support, parental monitoring, and school belonging) across middle and high school. Students (n = 1,668) from four Midwestern middle schools and six high schools who reported being in a relationship or dating during high school completed self-report measures. Results indicated that all protective factors differentiated between perpetrators and non-perpetrators of TDV, although these trajectories varied for boys and for girls and across the different types of TDV. Overall, youth who did not perpetrate TDV in high school generally displayed higher protective factors across the TDV perpetration types. Prevention programs that focus on teaching empathy skills, promoting parental monitoring and support, promoting school belongingness, and increasing social support could have potential to reduce TDV.