New Report on School Violence

Ontario School-Based Program Helps Prevent Teen Dating Violence, Especially Boys

A school-based program that integrates information about healthy relationships into the existing ninth-grade curriculum appears to reduce adolescent dating violence and increase condom use two and a half years later, according to a report from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). The effects of the low-cost intervention implemented in some Ontario schools appear stronger in boys.

The report published in the August issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that approximately one in 10 to one in five high school–aged teens are hit, slapped or beaten by an individual they are dating each year, according to background information in the article. Dating violence among adolescents often leads to intimate partner violence in adulthood and also is associated with injuries, unsafe sex, substance use and suicide attempts.

Dr. David A. Wolfe, Director of CAMH’s Centre for Prevention Science, and colleagues conducted from 2001 to 2004 a randomized trial of a 21-lesson curriculum delivered by teachers with special training in the dynamics of dating violence and healthy relationships.

The program, known as the “Fourth R: Skills for Youth Relationships,” was taught to 968 students at 10 randomly selected high schools. Dating violence prevention was integrated with core lessons about healthy relationships, sexual health and substance use prevention using interactive exercises. Relationship skills to promote safer decision making with peers and dating partners were also emphasized. Another 754 students at 10 different schools were assigned to a control group, where similar objectives were targeted but without training or materials.

When the adolescents were surveyed two and a half years later—at the end of grade 11—rates of physical dating violence were greater in the control students (9.8 percent) than in the students who participated in the program (7.4 percent). Although both boys and girls typically perpetrate dating violence, the intervention had a stronger effect on boys; 7.1 percent of boys in the control group and 2.7 percent in the intervention group reported physical dating violence, compared with 12.1 percent of girls in the control group and 11.9 percent of those in the intervention group. Sexually active boys in the program also reported a higher rate of condom use (114 of 168 or 67.9 percent vs. 65 of 111 or 58.6 percent).

Dr. Wolfe stresses teaching healthy relationships at an early age, to reduce the significant impact of violence on health and well-being across the lifespan. “Adolescence is confusing enough, but when you couple this with peer pressure and self esteem issues, some youth can be easily overwhelmed,” says Dr. Wolfe. “This is a time of life when youth may first start dating and experimenting with drug use and sex – which can be difficult especially when you consider that kids are just learning how to socialize with one another in a more mature context.”

The program met mandated education requirements in Ontario, meaning that no additional class time, scheduling or human resources assistance was needed. The average cost of training and materials was $16 (Canadian) per student.

The study concluded that interventions using skills-based interactive delivery can be combined effectively; and that with supplementary training, teachers can implement evidence-based prevention programs to garner significant improvements over status-quo classroom methods. Similar to efforts made with academic subjects, the best policy may involve earlier introduction of these important topics at a lower grade level, with increasing knowledge and practice introduced in core courses throughout high school.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world’s leading research centres in the area of addiction and mental health. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development, prevention and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental health and addiction issues.

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