~ By Colette
Two and a half years ago, as I was working on our issue on adolescent dating violence, I found that the research and information on adolescent dating violence revolved almost solely around intervention. It was primarily concerned with educating adults and teens to identify the warning signs of dating violence, intervening, and preventing it from happening again. There was little discussion, and – from what I could find – no research specifically on teaching youth about healthy relationships. While there continues to be an obvious need for dating violence intervention (and there are some excellent curricula addressing it), I was dismayed to find such little information about helping teens form strong, healthy dating relationships from the get-go.
About the time our issue was published, I learned of a new initiative created by a partnership between the Family Violence Prevention Fund and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation called “Start Strong.” The Start Strong initiative is aimed at preventing relationship violence and abuse among teens by promoting healthy relationships.
For the past two years, the Family Violence Prevention Fund has been working with 11 communities around the country to implement and evaluate prevention strategies targeted at middle and high school aged youth. The release of their recent school policy to increase student safety led me to revisit our dating violence issue and the Start Strong Initiative.
After talking with Debbie Lee, Senior Vice President at Start Strong, I learned about some of exciting approaches Start Strong is taking as they work to build healthy teen relationships:
- First and foremost, Start Strong is working at the middle school level (ages 11-14 years) as youth are beginning to experiment with relationships.
- Second, they are also building on emerging research which shows that there may be a relationship between bullying and future dating victimization or perpetration. This means that dating violence prevention and bully prevention might be tackled in a multi-faceted approach instead of two separate approaches.
- Third, Start Strong is working to actively engage parents (see their parent website here)
- And finally, they are working proactively with social media and mobile technologies to engage youth where they are.
When learning about the Start Strong initiative two years ago, my hope was that it would increase awareness and start discussions about the need to inform and engage youth in creating positive, healthy relationships, broadening our focus beyond the components of a negative one. Apparently, it has done just that as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has also begun efforts to promote healthy teen relationships. The CDC has recently put out an RFA titled “Dating Matters: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships.” Four applicants from high risk urban communities will be chosen for this 5 year project designed to build capacity, not conduct research (the application deadline is May 5, 2011).
In the coming weeks, our contributing editor, Jasmine Rose Penter, will explore the Start Strong school policy in another blog post.