New Study Shows Positive Impact of Healthy Relationship Program in Reducing Teen Dating Violence

A new study led by researchers from the Center for Violence Prevention at the University of Texas medical branch has revealed encouraging findings in the fight against Adolescent Relationship Abuse. The study, just published in Pediatrics, focused on the Fourth R program, a 21-session healthy relationships curriculum delivered in middle or high school health classes, found that teens with a history of adolescent relationship abuse who participated in the program were less likely to recommit acts of violence years after the intervention.

“Adolescent relationship abuse is a prevalent and serious public health concern affecting many teens,” said Dr. Elizabeth Baumler, lead author and professor at UTMB. “We previously showed that we can prevent violence from ever occurring. In this new study we found that Fourth R can stop violence from re-occurring in adolescents who previously reported violence.”

About 20 to 30 percent of U.S. teens have experienced adolescent relationship abuse that led to negative mental, behavioral, and physical health consequences. To combat this issue, the Fourth R program was designed to equip students with essential skills for maintaining healthy relationships while targeting several shared risk and protective factors of problem behaviors like dating violence and substance use.

This study included 2,768 7th-grade students from 24 urban and suburban middle schools in southeast Texas. The Fourth R program was delivered by existing teachers and aimed at promoting a safe and interactive learning environment. Students with a history of violence who received the intervention were substantially less likely to perpetrate violence 3 years after the intervention, compared to students with a history of violence who did not receive Fourth R.

"Our study offers strong evidence that the Fourth R program can play a vital role in reducing the recurrence of physical dating violence,” said Dr. Jeff R. Temple, a co-author and the study’s principal investigator. “Prior behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. So, preventing the recurrence of violence has the enormous potential of improving the lives of thousands of teens."

Indeed, the study's significance is in interrupting the link between adolescent relationship abuse and adult intimate partner violence. Baumler points out that this study brings us one step closer to fostering safer and healthier environments for adolescents.