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UCI Professor Discusses Teen Dating Violence

By Eliza Partika

Assistant Professor of Nursing Science Dr. Candace Burton spoke at UCI on Feb. 23 about how trauma informed care is crucial to teen health. The lecture, hosted by UC Irvine’s Initiative to End Family Violence, covered some of the common signs, causes, and effects on teens of having a prolonged abusive relationship.

   Burton began by explaining the common traits that make adolescents susceptible to abusive relationships.

   “Adolescence is the onset of abstract thought,” Burton said. “They begin to think about how others think of them.”

As a result, Burton said that teens are overly focused on the relationships they have with other people. Burton also introduced something called the attachment theory.

“Humans learn from infancy that they will have a secure base with their caregiver,” said Burton. She defined a secure base as the person an adolescent knows they can turn to when they are overwhelmed.

“When they are in a relationship, that partner could become their secure base because they know they can always return to that safe place in their partner,” she said.

According to Burton, this tendency in adolescents can lead to being unaware towards their own abuse, especially if their partner becomes their secure base in a more independent environment without the constant guidance of their parents.

   Burton also cited the extreme gendered perspectives enforced in high schools. These perspectives imply imbalance in the social framework and suggest that women are less confident than men and thus more reliant on them.

“Adolescents are different for all these reasons,” Burton said. She added that these particular traits in adolescents cause them to respond to dating differently and, because of their inexperience with dating, they tend to go along with actions that may not be normal because they are not sure whether it is something that is normal in a relationship.

   Burton moved on to say that abuse from dating violence has been linked to several severe health problems including diabetes and psychological problems like depression, anxiety, ongoing fear and chronic stress for the victim.

   “Some of my patients had been out of relationships for ten years, and they all talked about how they were still afraid,” Burton said. She mentioned a woman whose boyfriend had controlled her life to such an extent that she heard her boyfriend’s voice in her head, critiquing her. “It can be easy [for them to] take these things and integrate them into their identity,” Burton said.

   Burton’s current research focuses on biobehavioral health effects and looks at dating abuse as the cause of health problems. One of her most prevalent research topics, chronic stress in victims of teen dating violence, found that the trauma of the event on the body activates the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, and puts it into overdrive, where normally, cortisol should fluctuate. Burton equated the amount of stress put on individuals from the trauma of an abusive relationship to having to study for exams for the rest of your life.

   Burton stressed that if a teen or young adult in this situation is reaching out, the most important thing to do is to empower them and acknowledge and empathize with their struggles and listen.

“Help them be safe and figure out what they want to do. They want to know that you are listening,” Burton said.

   The Initiative to End Family Violence will be hosting another event, “Interviewing Children to Obtain Reliable Evidence,” for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. The event will take place at the UCI School of Law in EDU 1131 from 4:30-6 p.m. on March 8 with a distinguished lecture by UCI Professor of Psychology and  Social Behavior and Nursing Science Jodi A. Quas.