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Building Healthy Teen Relationships: An Evaluation of a Dating Violence Prevention Program with Middle School Students

Preventing dating violence is a concern for school administrators across the nation. One challenging aspect of school prevention programs is that most only target high school students even though dating violence begins in middle school.
Date Published
July 21, 2016

Researchers Amanda Cissner and Lama Ayoub conducted an evaluation to see whether a program already shown to decrease dating violence among Canadian high school students would also be effective with U.S. middle school students. The program — The Fourth R: Strategies for Healthy Youth Relationships — uses classes that focus on building healthy relationships and personal empowerment to decrease dating violence, bullying, sexual activity and substance use. Cissner and Ayoub found that an adaptation of this program for middle school students did not reduce dating violence behavior generally among middle school students. It was, however, beneficial for high-risk students, particularly those already involved in dating violence, and reduced other negative behaviors, such as bullying, especially in schools where it was implemented well.

The classes were taught in randomly assigned seventh grade classrooms across 10 Bronx, New York, middle schools. With the exception of delayed sexual activity, no main effects of the program were found on any of the outcomes of interest overall. However, several caveats are important to mention. The program was most beneficial for those already involved in dating violence, showing a 19 percent reduction in dating violence victimization and a 29 percent reduction in perpetration. In addition, implementation of the program mattered. Students who received more of the program showed delays in sexual activity and decreases in peer violence/bullying perpetration, and they rejected pro-violence beliefs and gender stereotypes. Finally, when the researchers compared the schools with the program to those without the program, they found that students in schools with the program reported less bullying and substance use, whether they participated in the program or not. These effects were greater for schools that most closely adhered to the program model.

Overall, the results for this study were mixed. The program did not reduce dating violence overall, but the program was effective in reducing targeted behaviors for students already engaged in dating violence. How much exposure to the program students received and the degree to which schools implemented the program as intended also played a key role in reducing negative behaviors. Certainly, further research is needed to understand how to prevent dating violence among middle school students.

About this Article

This work discussed in this article was completed under grant number 2010-MU-MU-0012 awarded by NIJ to Fund for the City of New York / Center for Court Innovation. The article is based on the grant report Building Healthy Teen Relationships: An Evaluation of the Fourth R Curriculum with Middle School Students in the Bronx by Amanda B. Cissner and Lama Hassoun Ayoub.

Date Published: July 21, 2016