African American Girls' Ideal Dating Relationship Now and In the Future and Factors that Shape These Perceptions

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The quality of dating relationships in adolescence can have long lasting effects on identity development, self esteem, interpersonal skills, and shape values and behaviors related to intimate relationships and risk behaviors. However, little is understood about how adolescents view their ideal partner and what implications these perceptions may have for romantic relationships. In fact, research suggests that over 400,000 adolescents have been victims of serious dating violence at some point in their lives. Among African American adolescents, religion may be particularly salient in romantic relationships. Religious organizations not only provide a place for seeking spiritual guidance and social interactions, but also provide unifying morals, beliefs, and practices for African American families.

      In this dissertation, three studies where conducted.  In Study 1 participants' self- identified, defined and vividly described 8 major characteristics, good communication, honesty, trust, respect, compromise, understanding, individuality, and self-confidence, of a healthy relationship.  In Study 2 several themes emerged in comparing girls' perceptions of an ideal dating relationship in high school with their perceptions of the ideal future relationship: (1) having a partner who shared similar education and career plans, (2) `best friend' qualities such as respect, trust, and honesty, (3) importance of family in identifying an ideal relationship, and (4) temporariness of high school relationships.  Study 3 findings suggest that the influence of religion in the lives of adolescents can be found in several domains.  These included whether to become sexually active, choosing a partner based on religious affiliation and issues of sexual orientation. Interestingly, girls also felt that, despite the sanctity of marriage, women should not stay in unhealthy or harmful relationships.

      Dating violence prevention curricula focus on helping girls identify unhealthy or abusive relationships and provide strategies to help them leave these relationships.  More programs are needed to instill in girls the values and characteristics of healthy relationships.  Early education and modeling of healthy teen dating relationships will help educators, practitioners and advocates empower  girls so they are more likely to develop healthy dating relationships and less likely to experience harm in their dating relationships.