Introducing dating violence prevention programs to children early on can reduce abusive relationships. Researchers came to this conclusion based on programs aimed at children as young as 11.
The American Journal of Preventive Medicine published the study about teen dating violence. It indicated that starting a prevention program early lowers the rate of dating violence.
The program studied is “Dating Matters” and was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The curriculum is available for free online.
The CDC Addresses a Growing Problem
Teenagers experience their first romantic relationships while still learning basic relationship skills. They do not always have the maturity to avoid abusive behaviors. It is no surprise that teenagers have a high risk of dating violence.
Teen dating violence is a significant problem in our country, as one out of every three American students experiences some type of abuse. Unfortunately, schools in the U.S. are often poorly equipped to deal with the problem.
There are many consequences of teen dating violence. Teenagers in abusive relationships often struggle with their academics. They are more susceptible to depression and anxiety. Dating violence also tends to increase the risk of drug and alcohol use among teens. Dating violence may even have criminal penalties for the perpetrators.
Abusive relationships among teenagers also lead to increased dating violence later in life.
Dating Matters Program Introduces Prevention Education Early
The CDC recognized the growing problem of teen dating violence. Several years ago it created the Dating Matters program for middle schoolers aged 11 to 14. Dating Matters is an evidence-based program geared towards dating violence prevention strategies.
The program includes a comprehensive curriculum for students in grades six through eight. The CDC targeted middle schoolers–pre-teens and teens before they began dating. This early intervention strategy aims to reduce harmful behaviors in the early teenage years.
Dating Matters Curriculum
The Dating Matters program was created to “stop teen dating violence before it starts.” Thus, Dating Matters focuses on fostering healthy relationships and avoiding unhealthy ones.
Particular lessons of the program include:
- What healthy teen relationships look like compared to unhealthy relationships
- How to encourage healthy relationships and discourage abusive behavior
- How to identify abusive relationships early
- How to spot red flags for potential dating violence
- The effects of teen dating violence, including statistics and examples
The target audience of these lessons is not only the kids themselves. It is also their teachers, families, and communities. Each plays a role in reducing dating violence.
The CDC curriculum uses cartoon depictions to display healthy versus unhealthy teen relationships. It also includes interactive exercises to reinforce positive relationship dynamics.
Early Successes of the Dating Matters Program
The CDC brought the Dating Matters program to four cities over the course of a five-year test run. The results were positive and indicated the program’s effectiveness.
The demonstration covered over 36,000 students across Baltimore, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, and Oakland. The CDC selected middle schools in communities with above-average crime rates, as these areas were viewed to have a higher risk of dating violence. The students were then randomly assigned to either the Dating Matters program or another program.
Researchers followed up on the program with confidential interviews of the participants. They asked whether the students had engaged in behaviors such as abuse, aggression, and threatening. The kids were also questioned about conflict resolution and positive relationship skills.
Based on student interviews, the CDC found a noticeable difference in the two groups. In fact, the youth who participated in Dating Matters had a lower risk of dating violence and related behaviors.
Dating Matters participants were about 10% less likely to be victims of abuse, and they were 8% less likely to perpetrate dating violence. Negative conflict resolution strategies were also less common in this group.
The Importance of Early Education
The success of the Dating Matters program highlights the importance of dating violence education at an early age.
The risk of abuse among teenagers can be reduced through prevention programs. These programs are more effective when they reach children before they start dating. Teens at this stage of development are able to learn positive relationship skills. They also avoid falling into abusive patterns.
Of course, this is not to say that dating violence education is wasted on older teenagers. Programs at every age are necessary to reduce the prevalence of abuse.