The ultimate goal of education about youth violence is to stop teen dating violence before it begins. During the preteen and teen years, young people are learning the skills they need to form positive, healthy relationships with others, and it is therefore an ideal time to promote healthy relationships and prevent patterns of teen dating violence that can last into adulthood.1 Learn more about characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships.
In addition to teaching relationship skills, prevention programs can focus on promoting protective factors—that is, characteristics of a teen’s environment that can support healthy development—and positive youth development. These can also be fostered by a teen’s home and community. For example, higher levels of bonding to parents and enhanced social skills can protect girls against victimization. Similarly, for boys, high levels of parental bonding have been found to be associated with less externalizing behavior, which in turn is associated with less teen dating violence victimization.2
Most of the handful of programs that have been empirically investigated are school-based and use a group format. Program length varies from less than a day to more than 20 sessions. A few programs frame the issue using a feminist perspective, while others use a more skills-based and gender-neutral approach. Teen dating violence prevention programs tend to focus on attitudes about violence, gender stereotyping, conflict management, and problem-solving skills. Activities aimed at increasing awareness and dispelling myths about violence in relationships are often included in the curriculum.3
Examples of Teen Dating Violence Prevention Programs4
The Safe Dates Project is an intervention that includes school activities (e.g., a theater production performed by peers, a curriculum of ten 45-minute sessions taught by health and physical education teachers, and a poster contest) and community activities (e.g., services for adolescents in abusive relationships and service provider training). A four-year follow-up study found reductions in the likelihood of being a victim or a perpetrator of moderate psychological and physical violence as well as sexual violence among the eighth- and ninth-grade students from North Carolina who had participated in the Safe Dates Project; however, there were no reductions in the likelihood of being a victim of severe physical or psychological violence.5 Further, findings showed that those students involved in the Safe Dates Project reported less acceptance of dating violence and traditional gender roles, a stronger belief in the need for help, and more awareness of services available in the community.6
Ending Violence is a curriculum designed for high school students that focuses on educating youth about the legal repercussions and protections for perpetrators and victims of dating violence. An evaluation of Break the Cycle’s Ending Violence curriculum with a sample of predominately Latino teens from a large urban school district found that the youth demonstrated improved knowledge of the laws related to dating violence, less acceptance of female-on-male aggression, and increased perception of the likelihood and helpfulness of seeking assistance from various sources after they had completed the program.7
The 4th R, an interactive classroom curriculum for ninth-grade students, aims to reduce youth dating violence by addressing youth violence and bullying, unsafe sexual behavior, and substance use. Researchers found that the rate of physical dating violence for a random sample of Canadian students who participated in the curriculum was significantly lower than the control group (9.8 percent versus 7.4 percent). Significance wasn’t maintained for those who had been dating in the previous year. However, boys in the intervention group were significantly less likely than boys in the control group to engage in dating violence (2.7 percent, compared to 7.1 percent). Girls in both groups showed the same rates of dating violence (11.9 percent versus 12 percent). This was also true when the previously dating subsample was analyzed.8
The Youth Relationships Project is a prevention program focused on addressing the emotional, behavioral, and cognitive factors that allow youth to strengthen the expression of positive interactions with dating partners and reduce the probability of power-assertive and violent behavior. The project educates youth about gender-based violence, and helps them to develop skills and social actions such as personal responsibility, communication, and community participation. An experimental study that randomly assigned 14- to 16-year-olds from child protective services to control or to the Youth Relationship Project curriculum found that the intervention was effective in reducing incidents of physical and emotional abuse and symptoms of emotional distress over time for the youth in the intervention. Specifically, youth in the intervention showed significantly greater declines in the use of coercive tactics within the dating relationship and enhanced motivation, interest, and understanding of the content of the program.9
Shifting Boundaries, a school-based dating violence prevention program for middle school students (sixth and seventh grades), had positive effects on reducing dating violence within a randomized experimental study in a large urban school district. The study looked at the effectiveness of a classroom curriculum, a school intervention at the building level, and a combination of the two. The classroom intervention included six sessions in which there was an emphasis on the consequences of perpetrating teen dating violence (including state laws and penalties), the construction of gender roles, and healthy relationships. The building‐based intervention included the use of temporary school‐based restraining orders, higher levels of faculty and security presence in areas identified through student mapping of safe/unsafe “hot spots,” and the use of posters to increase awareness and reporting of teen dating violence to school personnel. Compared to a control group, the students who participated in the building-only interventions and those who experienced both the building interventions and the classroom interventions were more knowledgeable about the consequences of perpetrating teen dating violence, more likely to avoid areas where teen dating violence is likely to occur, and more likely to intervene as a bystander six months post intervention. The combination also resulted in reduced incidences of sexual and physical dating violence by as much as 50 percent up to six months after the intervention. The classroom-only intervention did not prove effective.10
Programs and evidence to support programs will continue to evolve. To find the most up-to-date evidence-based programs related to teen dating violence, go to CrimeSolutions.gov and search “teen dating violence” or related terms.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2005
2 Maas, Fleming, Herrenkohl, & Catalano, 2010
3 O’Keefe & Aldridge, 2005
4 The programs displayed are not endorsed by the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs, but provide a snapshot of some of the programs that focus on decreasing teen dating violence.
5 Foshee et al., 2005
6 Foshee et al., 2005
7 Jaycox et al., 2006
8 Wolfe, et al., 2009
9 Pittman, Wolfe, & Wekerle, 2000
10 Taylor, Stein, Woods, & Mumford, 2011
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