Teenage Boys Who Think Men and Women Should Be Treated Equally Less Likely to Be Violent

Teaching teenage boys about gender equality could prevent them from being violent, a study suggests.

A total of 866 teenage boys aged between 13 and 19 years who were from low income neighborhoods in Pittsburgh took part in the study.

The work is part of a wider youth and sexual violence prevention program. Most participants were African American, at 70 percent, with 21 percent identifying as Hispanic, multicultural, or other. Eighty eight percent were born in the U.S., and 85 percent were at school.

The findings are published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The survey required the boys to rate how much they agreed with statements like "a guy never needs to hit another guy to get respect," and "I would be friends with a guy who is gay." They were also asked to consider what they would do in situations like a male peer telling jokes that disrespect women and girls.

The survey included questions on violence against partners or someone they were hooking up with, including forcing them to perform a sex act with or without the use of threats, and having sex with a person too drunk or high to say no.

The survey revealed one in three of the participants had been abusive while dating in the past nine months. Of the total, 56 percent had sexually harassed someone; and 8.2 percent had had sex with someone who was too drunk to consent. Seventy three percent of the teenagers had bullied someone.

Boys who viewed men and women as equal were less likely to say they had been violent, including sexual harassment and abusing someone they were dating. Teenagers who had seen peers be abusive were more likely to perpetrate a range of forms of violence, including abusing a partner.

The study comes amid a backdrop of intimate partner violence among teenagers. According to existing research cited by the authors, one in 11 females and one in 15 males high school students say they have experienced physical violence while dating. And in a 2018 study, one in nine female students and one in 36 males had experienced sexual violence in the past year. Of adults who were subjected to partner violence, 26 percent of women and 15 percent of men had their first encounter before the age of 18.

More broadly, partner and sexual violence is linked to other forms of violence among teenagers, including bullying, sexual harassment, and youth violence, the authors said.

Past research has indicated that addressing gender inequality, homophobia, gender-based harassment, and challenging norms of violence against women are key to preventing further harm, the authors said.

"The Me Too Movement brought to light how pervasive sexual violence and derogatory behavior toward women is in our society," study co-author Elizabeth Miller, director of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Children's Hospital, said in a statement:

"Our findings highlight the wide-ranging impact that witnessing sexual harassment and dating violence has on our teenage boys, and present an opportunity to teach adolescents to challenge negative gender and social norms, and interrupt their peer's disrespectful and harmful behaviors."

Miller told Newsweek: she was surprised to find such consistency in the link between gender attitudes and different forms of violence, as well as the extent to which witnessing peers' harmful behaviors influenced the likelihood of also using violence in the teenagers' interpersonal relationships.

But Miller said the study is limited because the participants were from urban neighborhoods, and the findings may not relate to other populations. Also, the gender attitudes measured might not be the young person's own, but a reflection of their perception of societal messages, she argued.

"We hope to replicate this work with younger children in the future as it may be that gender norms and attitudes about gender equality need to be addressed earlier—this work may also be relevant for bullying prevention efforts in the elementary school years," said Miller.

She went on: "The use of violence in adolescent relationships is unfortunately common, and readers should be aware of the extent to which youths' attitudes around gender and equality are already coalescing and these attitudes are closely associate with unhealthy and harmful behaviors.

"If we are to work towards a more equitable, just and inclusive society that is free of violence, parents and other adults interacting with children and youth need to recognize that they have a significant role in helping to shape those attitudes and making it abundantly clear that violence is not acceptable, ever," said Miller.

"Youth also need to be taught skills on how to safely respond when they witness their peers' harmful or disrespectful behaviors, and learn to challenge language and behaviors that harm women and girls," she concluded.

boy, teenager, stock, getty
A stock image shows a teenage boy thinking. Getty

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