A study published today in Pediatrics found that a healthy relationship curriculum can reduce physical dating violence among adolescents.
The multi-year study, led by Jeff Temple, director of the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Center for Violence Prevention, recruited 24 Texas middle schools for the randomized controlled trial in 2017. The study compared students who received the standard health curriculum versus students in schools that implemented the Fourth R healthy relationship curriculum. Findings demonstrated that the Fourth R, adapted for a 7th grade, ethnically diverse audience of early adolescents, was effective in reducing physical adolescent relationship abuse perpetration over at least one year.
“In addition to contributing to poor mental and physical health – both in the short term and over time – victims of dating abuse are more likely to do poorly in school and have relationship problems, including future violence, throughout their lives,” Temple said. “If we can prevent dating abuse at this early age, we have the potential of creating a lifetime of happier and healthier people.”
Approximately 10% to 20% of U.S. adolescents report experiencing past-year physical or sexual adolescent relationship abuse, including physical, sexual, and psychological violence perpetrated by a romantic partner. Adolescent relationship abuse has significant impacts across the lifespan, including increased risk for substance misuse, adverse mental and physical health outcomes, subsequent intimate partner violence victimization, academic disengagement and poor school performance, and economic instability into adulthood. The prevalence and negative consequences of adolescent relationship abuse make it a public health priority in need of efficacious preventive interventions.
“Many states – Texas included – have mandates that public schools teach healthy relationship skills. Rather than just checking a box and wasting precious class time, we should encourage schools to implement interventions that have been shown to be effective,” Temple said. “This study showed that Fourth R, which is taught by existing teachers and efficiently replaces standard health curriculum, can fill this need.”
Given the burden of adolescent relationship abuse on communities in adolescence and across the lifespan, these findings indicate a potential significant public health benefit of this prevention curriculum. This result suggests that teaching students about, and providing skills to engage in, healthy relationships can prevent adolescents from using physical violence against their dating partners.
In addition, the study has indicated that the affordable and efficient Fourth R intervention worked after only one year – before many of these teens were even in serious relationship. Experts in the study believe the results can be even more robust when their dating relationships become more serious and longer in duration.