Three-fourths of seventh graders report having a boyfriend or girlfriend, according to a study by the Robert Wood Johnson’s Start Strong program, and many of those students are already experiencing dating violence.
Dating violence is a pattern of behaviors, including physical, emotional, or psychological actions, used to exert power or control over a dating partner. In addition to suffering the physical and emotional toll of abuse, teens and young adults who experience teen dating violence (TDV) are at risk of getting less education and lower earnings.
As more and more teens are affected by abuse within relationships, programs and initiatives have developed to prevent dating violence, create safe spaces for those seeking help, and reverse social norms that are a barrier to awareness of and assistance with dating violence.
Start Strong is a four-year TDV prevention program that was initiated in 11 sites nationwide. It works on multiple levels to educate teens, engage parents and educators and change policies. Webinars, policy models and hands-on training are just a few of the many individualized programs Start Strong created. After its pilot period, the study showed an immediate and continued increase in positive attitudes toward gender equality, decreased acceptance of TDV behaviors, and stronger parent-child communications about healthy relationships.
Start Strong targets teens in the “critical window” age in which behaviors and attitudes can be changed. Reaching younger teens is essential to stopping violence and abuse before it reaches the severe levels seen in older teens and adults.
The CDC’s Veto Violence program created a free online, interactive course called Dating Matters. The course is available to anyone working to improve the health of teens and includes videos, a note-taking platform, planning guides and a resource center to lay a foundation for implementing TDV prevention programs.
Respect Works is a four-step kit including several programs giving a comprehensive approach to TDV prevention and education. Abuse education and recognition curricula as part of the Safe Dates program work alongside the Speak.Act.Change methods of engaging peer advocates to help teens speak out against negative attitudes and behaviors. The kit also uses Break the Cycle methods to inform teens of their legal rights, and includes policy tools to address TDV at a broader level.
Love is Respect
Resources for teens themselves are also available. Loveisrespect.org is geared towards helping teens identify, understand and stop or prevent the various aspects of dating violence. The site includes a Power and Control interactive wheel of lists and video examples of TDV and advice for recognizing and addressing unhealthy relationships. Online quizzes, peer videos, definitions and an interactive spectrum of dating behaviors are just a few of the additional resources available.
Using these tools, you can prevent TDV by transforming some of the social norms that encourage violence and create barriers to healthy relationships, and by addressing dating violence on individual, school and policy levels.
Identifying your community’s needs and its unique obstacles to healthy living is the first step in creating a solid framework for implementing violence prevention programs. In our map room, we’ve created a sample map of areas with inadequate social or emotional support for those 18 and older to help you start finding areas to implement TDV programs.
What measures are your communities taking to address teen dating violence? Share your stories and strategies on the Commons so that we can collaborate, learn, and make change together.