The Family Context and Adolescent Dating Violence: A Latent Class Analysis of Family Relationships and Parenting Behaviors

  • Rachel C. GartheEmail author
  • Terri N. Sullivan
  • Deborah Gorman-Smith
Empirical Research


Adolescent dating violence is a persistent public health concern, impacting many youths during their initial and formative relationships during middle school. Despite theoretical and empirical studies highlighting the essential role of family relationship dynamics and parenting practices in relation to youth violence, substantially less research has focused on associations between these factors and rates of adolescent dating violence. The current study examined aspects of the family context in relation to dating violence outcomes among a racially and ethnically diverse sample of middle school students from economically disadvantaged communities, a group of adolescents at a high risk for exposure to risk factors for dating violence. Participants included 495 adolescents (66% male; 63% African American). Data were collected at the beginning of sixth grade and three subsequent spring waves through eighth grade. The current study identified patterns of family factors using a latent class analysis and examined these classes in relation to dating violence and dating violence norms. Three classes emerged: a positive family context with mixed messages about parental support for fighting and nonviolence (42%), an average family context with consistent parental support for nonviolent responses to conflict (24%), and a poor family context with parental support for fighting (34%). The classes with average and positive family contexts showed the lowest levels of dating violence and dating violence norms. These findings support the development and integration of family context factors into adolescent dating violence prevention programs, especially within high-burden contexts where families may be more likely to endorse mixed messages about how to handle conflict and youth may be at a higher risk for dating violence outcomes.


Family Parenting Dating violence Latent class analysis 



The authors acknowledge the Multisite Violence Prevention Project for permission to use the data for this study. Investigators from each site are as follows (changes in affiliations in parentheses): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA: Thomas R. Simon, Robin M. Ikeda, Emilie Smith (University of Georgia), Le’Roy E. Reese (Morehouse University); Duke University, Durham, NC: David L. Rabiner, Shari Miller (Research Triangle Institute), Donna-Marie Winn (University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill), Kenneth A. Dodge, Steven R. Asher; University of Georgia, Athens, GA: Arthur M. Horne, Pamela Orpinas, Roy Martin, William H. Quinn (Clemson University); University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL: Patrick H. Tolan (University of Virginia), Deborah Gorman-Smith, David B. Henry, Franklin N. Cosey-Gay, Michael Schoeny (University of Chicago); Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA: Albert D. Farrell, Aleta L. Meyer (Administration for Children and Families, Washington, DC), Terri N. Sullivan, Kevin W. Allison.

Authors' Contributions

R.C.G. conceived the study, performed the statistical analyses and drafted the manuscript; T.S. participated in the design of the study, helped with the interpretation of findings, and helped to draft the manuscript; D.G.S. participated in the design of the study and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Data Sharing and Declaration

The manuscript’s data will not be deposited.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures for the current study were approved by university institutional review boards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all the individual participants in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social WorkUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  3. 3.School of Social Service AdministrationUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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