Preventing domestic violence is something that has to start young. From an early age we learn social norms and patterns that shape our relationships well into adulthood. For this reason, REACH’s Education and Prevention Program focuses heavily on work with teens, to start building a foundation of healthy relationships. Peers Against ViolencE (PAVE), our teen dating violence prevention initiative, uses classroom lessons and interactive discussions to encourage high school students to think about healthy relationships and their role as peer leaders and active bystanders in the context of teen dating violence. The PAVE program reaches more than 2,000 teens every year. In addition to our classroom based work, we also offer support groups for girls who have been identified by school staff as being at risk for dating violence. In 2011, with support from the Sudbury Foundation, we piloted a trainer’s guide for our dating violence prevention curricula with high school faculty, and we are now in the process of developing a state of the art program evaluation tool with their help as well. Community support for the program has allowed us to do more than ever. With funding from Community Health Network Area 17, we have begun working in Waltham High School with the peer leadership group, fostering a grassroots approach to addressing healthy teen relationships. And thanks to a 2012 grant from the Metro West Health Foundation, we are working in partnership with the Wayland School System in a comprehensive approach that includes faculty and staff training, support for clinical staff, and parent education, as well as work with teens.
All told, REACH is providing classroom programming in five communities (Burlington, Woburn, Wayland, Stoneham, Billerica), doing peer leadership work in Waltham, and staff trainings in Wayland, Wellesley and soon in Waltham. We also work with school administrators on their policies around teen dating violence, and make presentations at the state level, including most recently at the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s annual Wellness Conference. Just last week, we hung out with the Teen Dating Violence Awareness Club at Shawsheen Tech in Billerica as they held their annual ice cream social to raise awareness about the issue and funds for REACH!
This work is vitally important. A study published in the January 2013 Journal of Pediatrics reports that victims of teen dating violence are more likely to experience adverse health behaviors and outcomes in young adulthood. “Compared to adolescents reporting no dating violence, teen girls who were victimized by a boyfriend were more likely to engage in smoking and heavy drinking, and to experience symptoms of depression and thoughts of suicide five years later. Teen boys victimized by a girlfriend reported increased anti-social behaviors and suicidal thoughts, and were more likely to use marijuana five years later. Both males and females who were in aggressive relationships as teens were two to three times more likely to be in violent relationships again as adults, compared to teens who experienced no dating violence during their adolescent years.” Promoting healthy relationships among teens has the ripple effect of promoting healthy teens across the board.
In the coming months we hope to bring you blog posts and updates from some of the PAVE students themselves, telling you in their words their thoughts about healthy relationships. We also plan to offer more by way of resources to parents on how to talk to their kids about healthy relationships. We have recently developed “Tip Cards” with information on what to say to kids about relationships, broken down by age group (3-6, 7-10, 11-14, 15-18). Ranging from teaching younger children not to keep secrets from adults, to defining personal boundaries as they get older, and asking open-ended questions of older teens, the cards offer concrete examples of how to have conversations that can sometimes be difficult. If you would like to host our staff for an evening in your home to talk to your friends about their kids and healthy relationships, we are available to do so. Please contact Colleen Armstrong, Education Program Manager, at (781) 891-0724 ext. 119 or colleen @ reachma.org for more information.
Waltham High School Peer Leaders held a display at the Waltham Public Library during Domestic Violence Awareness Month last October.