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Successfully raising awareness about teen dating violence is best achieved by preparing a well-organized, engaging school event. Educational programs focusing on teen dating should include content that is current and relevant to a teenage audience. Most importantly, your event should stimulate teenagers and prompt them to want to establish healthy relationships. Below is a four-step platform to educate teens about dating violence along with some suggested activities to help ensure you keep your teenage audience engaged throughout each step.

Step 1: Help teens recognize the prevalence of teen dating violence.

There are two main challenges involved in raising awareness about teen dating violence (TDV). The first is convincing a teenage audience that every teen in the room is at risk for TDV. Despite the fact roughly one in three teens experiences abuse from a dating partner, most teens are unaware of the prevalence of TDV. Other teens think they are immune to TDV, and view it as a problem that would never impact their lives.

"One in three teens experiences abuse from a dating partner"

The second greatest challenge is helping teens understand what TDV looks like. Many teens do not realize that sexual and emotional abuse are also forms of teen dating violence. Others mistakenly assume that the signs of teen dating violence mirror those of violence between adult partners. Dispelling myths and assumptions about TDV is critical during this first step of your event.

Activities to illustrate that no teen is immune from dating violence

First impressions are critical when trying to capture the attention of a teenage audience. You need to engage your audience right away or you run the risk of teens in your audience mentally checking out before you have finished Step One. Below are some ways that you can jump-start your teen dating program:

1) Start with some True or False questions that help call attention to teen dating violence myths:

  • "I'm only 13, so I'm too young to worry about dating violence."
  • "I'm gay, so dating violence won't affect me."
  • "It's fine if my boyfriend screams at me, as long as he doesn't hit me."

  • 2) Dispel these myths by reminding teens that TDV can affect teens of all races, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

    3) Split one third of your audience away from the rest of the group and explain how they represent the one third of teens who will experience TDV. Use this opportunity to illustrate the magnitude of the problem, and also to let potential victims know they are not alone.

    4) Conclude step one by distributing a Dating Violence Pocket Pointer to keep the warning signs of dating violence fresh in the minds of audience members.

  • Tip* As a follow up activity, consider having your students create posters on teen dating violence facts and prevention. Then hang the posters in visible areas throughout the school, such as the student commons area or the hallway near the main entrance.
  • Step 2: Arm teens with the tools to end an unhealthy relationship.

    Ending a relationship – even an unhealthy one – can be a frightening experience for many teenagers. The fear of being alone, fears about how a breakup may impact a teen's social status, and the fear of retribution from an angry partner often prevent a teen from exercising the courage to end an unhealthy relationship.

    Like adults, teens will be better prepared to end an unhealthy relationship if they have a clear plan of action and the tools to follow through with the breakup. As you encourage teens to end an unhealthy relationship as soon as possible, you should recommend a plan that stresses the following:

  • Location. Emphasize the importance of choosing a public location when ending a relationship.
  • Preparation. Teens need to be prepared for anger and opposition when they end an unhealthy relationship.
  • Strength. A teen must have the strength to resist the promises to change that an abusive partner will make.
  • Support. A strong social support network of family and friends is an invaluable tool when ending a destructive relationship.
  • Activities to empower teens to end unhealthy relationships

    Now it is time to empower the teens in your audience with some engaging discussion. You can do this by using the strategies below to help teens learn how to safely end an unhealthy relationship:

    1) Start off with some open-ended questions to engage the audience:

  • "Is it better to end an unhealthy relationship in private or at the mall?"
  • "How might a violent partner respond when you try to end a relationship?"
  • "What do you do when a violent partner promises to change?"

  • 2) Use a multimedia approach by showing a short DVD that illustrates how to end unhealthy relationships.

    3) Stress the importance of maintaining strength when ending a relationship by distributing the Esteem Bottles.

    Step 3: Provide specific strategies to prevent teen dating violence.

    Stopping teen dating violence before it has a chance to unfold is an ambitious but attainable goal. Preventing dating violence requires educators to bolster the confidence of teens and help them realize that they can play an active role in preventing TDV. Additionally, teens need to learn how to make good decisions, such as the following:

  • Refrain from using alcohol, as it can impact judgment. Alcohol is also involved in up to 75% of college date rapes.
  • Avoid spending time with peers who display aggressive behaviors.
  • Schedule dates with other couples, especially in the early stages of dating.
  • Do not ignore early warning signs or make excuses for violent behavior.
  • Alert authorities if you suspect a friend or classmate is being abused.
  • Know the signs of an unhealthy relationship (hostility, disrespectful behavior, sexual violence, intimidating behavior, physical violence, and dishonesty).
  • Activities to help teens prevent dating violence

    Hopefully by the time you have reached Step three, everyone in your audience is well aware that dating violence is a critical problem that must be prevented. Now is the time to stress how important it is for everyone to work together to put an end to TDV. You can engage teens with the activities below:

    1) First, instill confidence in teens. Assure them there are steps they can take to prevent dating violence such as the good decision bullet points listed above.

    2) Launch a contest to see who can write down the 6 elements of an unhealthy relationship covered above.

    3) Distribute an Insulated "Content Warning" Cup as a reminder to avoid alcohol and never leave your drink unattended.

    Step 4: Focus on developing healthy relationships

    This step is vital to ensuring teens know what qualities to look for in relationships and dating partners. Successful completion of Step Four requires teens to understand the key elements of a healthy relationship. Some of the most important components of a healthy relationship are:

  • Mutual trust
  • Respectful communication
  • Anger control
  • Effective problem solving
  • Willingness to compromise
  • Honesty
  • Empathy
  • Activities to help teens develop healthy relationships

    At the end of this final step, teens should leave your program energized and ready to build healthy relationships with others. You want to make sure that they do not forget the key qualities found in healthy relationships, so leave them with a final reminder of what you've discussed before you finish. Below are some activities to help ensure that teens remain engaged and stay on the right relationship track:

    1) Enlist the participation of student leaders and athletes by asking them to role-play examples of healthy relationships.

    2) Pass out a Pocket Mirror to remind teens that a healthy relationship should never involve sexual assault.

    3) Leave teens with a "mini relationship tip sheet" such as the Expect Respect Phone Pocket/Wallet Card.

    Your ability to increase awareness of teen dating violence is directly tied to the measures that you take to make your educational program interesting and engaging for teenagers. Even the most compelling facts and statistics can be difficult to visualize, but by engaging your audience with interactive, multimedia presentations, you help transform an intangible concept into a real, visual experience which will have a lasting impression. All the while, you're also providing audience members with the knowledge and tools to prevent dating violence, which will build their confidence and empower them to pursue healthier relationships. These teens can set an example for their friends of how to maintain a healthy relationship and, along with their newfound knowledge, they can educate others and help stop the spread of teen dating violence.

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