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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Maryland Study Examines African American Adolescent Male’s Views of Healthy Dating Relationships

African American males are often depicted as perpetrators of teen dating violence (TDV), and while TDV prevention programs have sought to address this issue, dialogue with male youth has been scarce in research on TDV. A recent study conducted by University of Maryland School of Public Health researcher Dr. Donna E. Howard and colleagues aims to address this research gap by better understanding cultural values and beliefs held by African American males, as this can improve the effectiveness of interventions developed to address TDV. Dr. Howard and her team found that trustworthiness, communication, compatibility and respect were the prominent themes identified by participants as important to healthy relationships.


[Photo: Dr. Donna E. Howard]

Dr. Howard, an associate professor in the department of behavioral and community health, has expertise in interpersonal and teen dating violence. She has conducted extensive research on how socialization affects teen dating relationships including how social media is used in the formation, maintenance, conflict resolution and dissolution of adolescent dating relationships. Her publication “Adolescent African American Males’ Characterization of Healthy Dating Relationships: A Challenge to One-dimensional Stereotypes” in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Behavior was featured by the National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth (NCFY).

This qualitative study utilized in-depth semi-structured interviews to gather and study the participants’ perceptions and first-hand experiences. There were two main questions that were being investigated: what the youth valued in a dating relationship and what they believed made a dating relationship healthy. The researchers recruited 18 men between the ages of 13 and 21 who identified as African American. Study participants were drawn from a local high school, a community-based Planned Parenthood youth program and neighborhood youth club in Washington, D.C.

The study participants had an understanding of what defined unhealthy dating and some forms of TDV, in addition to possessing knowledge on characteristics of healthy dating. The researchers found four main themes in the responses of what the young men valued and believed comprised a healthy relationship. Trustworthiness, communication, compatibility and respect were the prominent themes that emerged through the interviews and analysis. The discussion around interpersonal respect was especially noteworthy as it was found to be lacking as a factor identified in existing research. A few of the general sub-themes were honesty, conflict resolution and physical connection.

This study is significant in the field as it “challenged the existing paradigm by reframing the research around [African American] males’ insights about healthy dating dynamics rather than presuming their propensity is toward violence perpetration and aggression,” Dr. Howard and team stated in the publication. Dr. Howard and her colleagues state that youth viewing themselves as “producers of knowledge…may be an important first step toward validating their integrity” and engendering their engagement in culturally relevant interventions that personalize and resonate with their experiences and needs.

Interpersonal violence and TDV are complex issues and engaging minority males in dialogue is essential to efforts to promote positive youth development, as this helps to better develop, execute and evaluate appropriate interventions.


Howard, D., John, C., Gilchrist, B., Royster, I., & Aiken, N. (2015). Adolescent African American Males’ Characterizations of Healthy Dating Relationship: A Challenge to One-dimensional Stereotypes. Journal of Child and Adolescent Behaviour 03(06). Retrieved March 8, 2016, from