"One of the things that we need to do better at society is to have conversations very early with young people—both females and males—about healthy relationship strategies," Amy Bonomi says. (Credit: Jhaymesisviphotography/Flickr)

Dating abuse via text takes a toll

Threats, controlling behavior, and harassing text messages from a dating partner can have a serious effect on a young adult’s health and well-being, new research shows.

While physical and sexual violence significantly affect the health and behavior of adolescents aged 13 to 19, non-physical abuse such as stalking through text messages or email also has a considerable effect, says Amy Bonomi, lead researcher on the study and professor of human development and family studies at Michigan State University.

“Often an argument in society is that abuse that is not physical or sexual really doesn’t matter,” Bonomi says. “Is it really harmful, for example, if I call my partner a bad name? Or if I’m harassing or stalking them with text messages? Well, we’ve shown that it does have a negative effect on health.”

For a new study published in BMC Public Health, Bonomi and colleagues surveyed 585 college students about their dating experiences and health histories.

Compared to non-abused females, females who had been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner when they were between the ages of 13 and 19 were nearly four times more likely to smoke.

They also were more than four times as likely to develop certain eating disorders and were at increased risk of depression and engaging in risky sexual behavior.

But females who had been victims of non-physical abuse were nearly as likely to take up smoking. They also were at increased risk of depression, eating disorders, and engaging in risky sexual behavior.

For males, no health differences were observed for those experiencing physical and sexual dating violence compared to those who did not. Interestingly, however, males who experienced non-physical dating abuse were much more likely to smoke and develop certain eating disorders.

Relationship skills

Taken as a whole, the findings point to the need for developing programs to prevent dating violence in all its forms and to intervene when it occurs, Bonomi says. These programs should be targeted to students starting in elementary school.

“One of the things that we need to do better at society is to have conversations very early with young people—both females and males—about healthy relationship strategies,” Bonomi says.

“We often wait too long—until middle school and even high school—to begin talking to girls and boys about relationship skills, if we even talk about it at all.”

Researchers from the University of Washington, Ohio State University, and Group Health Research Institute in Seattle contributed to the study.

Source: Michigan State University

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