Jeff Temple of the University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston talked to Guidry News recently about efforts to bring the Fourth R program to area middle schools.
Temple said the effort began after he studied the teen “sexting” phenomenon.
“This came out of the study I talked to you all about in 2012,” Temple said, referring to his previous interview with Guidry News. “That was part of the longitudinal study that is still going on where we are looking at the risk and protective factors of healthy and unhealthy relationships.”
The sexting study naturally dovetailed into a partnership with Fourth R developers, he said. The prevention program promotes healthy relationships and works to prevent dating violence.
“So it is all kind of coming together in the sense that now we will - with the information we’ve gathered over the last eight years - we will use that to actually prevent dating violence, promote healthy relationships and deal with risky behaviors such as substance abuse and general violence,” he said.
The sexting research became pivotal in drawing a link between risky behaviors and dating. Although UTMB did not invent the term "sexting", the 2012 study did help make it a mainstream term.
“The term 'sexting' came out before our study, but maybe what we did is legitimize the term from an empirical standpoint,” he said. “So we are one of the first to research sexting which, for your readers, is the combination of sex and text. What we found from that study is that it is linked with actual sexual behavior.”
He said the data sets from the sexting study apply to the Fourth R program and for other students, the program helps them build frameworks for healthy relationships.
Temple and his colleagues will study the program's long-term effects on middle school students. The program is already successful in Canadian high schools, he added.
“What we’re wanting to do now is evaluate a middle school, seventh-grade, version of Fourth R to see if that is effective," he said. "What we will do is, we will have intervention schools that will have students who will receive the program and it will replace existing public health curriculum. So it becomes the new health class, basically.”
Researchers will compare intervention schools with those using the standard public health curriculum. Then, researchers will follow students for three years to determine if the curriculum had any impact, he said.
“Seventh-grade is a real critical time because it is far enough along to where they are starting to think about the opposite sex,” he said. “They are starting to think about dating and they are actually starting to date, but it is before the majority of them are participating in any risky behavior. So it is really an ideal time, the seventh grade.”
Next year, teachers will learn the curriculum and rollout begins after that, Temple said.
“Whether or not we will be able to say this is an effective program for middle-school kids in terms of promoting healthy relationships is still a few years out,” he concluded. Jeff R. Temple, PHD
is Associate Professor, Obstetrics & Gynecology and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston.