Televised Teen Dating Violence: Making Sense of Adolescents’ and Young Adults’ Responses to Teen Dating Violence in a Reality TV Program

Primary author: Soojung Kang
Co-author(s): Stacey Hust; Kathleen Rodgers; Rachel Lutovsky
Faculty sponsor: Stacey Hust

Primary college/unit: Edward R. Murrow College of Communication
Campus: Pullman


One-third of U.S. teens experience teen dating violence (TDV) in their heterosexual relationships (Halpern, Oslak, Young, Martin, & Kupper, 2001), and one in ten teens reported being physically hurt by a romantic partner in the past year (CDCP, 2009). Sexualized, violent, and gender-stereotyped media messages can inform sexual schemata that can put adolescents at increased risk for becoming victims or perpetrators of TDV (Sears et al., 2007; Vezina & Hebert, 2007). We conducted 16 focus groups across Washington State, with 58 high-school adolescents (32 females; 26 males) and 48 young adults (27 females; 21 males). Participants viewed a clip from the widely popular TV program 16 and Pregnant that featured two teenage parents in an emotionally and physically violent argument. Then, participants were asked to identify their understanding of the content and their perceptions of the TDV. The overwhelming majority of participants identified that the clip was not similar to what they saw in their personal lives. However, they rarely referred to it as violence or abuse, and primarily blamed the mother for the conflict. Participants also provided situational explanations for the conflict (e.g. the couple is stressed; the couple is too young). That participants didn’t identify the conflict as violence or abuse suggests such televised portrayals may have become normalized, even though the portrayal was not similar to what they saw in their daily lives. Further, the findings suggest participants viewed the conflict through traditional gender scripts in that they blamed the victim and rationalized male aggression.