How Educators Can Help
What You Need to Know
Middle and high school are complex and challenging times for teens.
- Hormones cause changes in body and emotions.
- The teenage brain can think in complex ways, yet decision making can be immature; immediate pleasure is weighed more heavily than delayed risk.
- Teens are highly concerned about social status, relationships, and sex.
- Teens may be exposed to drugs/alcohol.
- Teachers should look for signs that their students may be experiencing dating violence or perpetrating dating violence.
- Adolescents spend more unsupervised time with friends and peer groups than younger children. Aggression and abuse can become harder to notice, especially when the abuse does not occur in school or happens online.
Teen romantic relationships tend to vary by age.
- Romantic relationships are more common in older teens.
- Romantic relationships tend to be more serious in older teens.
- The reasons for conflict may be different in each relationship, and tend to vary by age. For instance, early adolescent relationships may be more concerned with having fun or the need for autonomy, while later adolescent relationships may be more concerned with intimacy (Bravo, Connolly, & McIsaac, 2017).
- Adolescent dating and sexual relationships often consist of behaviours that may fall outside of “traditional” relationship norms, including casual sex, non-exclusive sexual relationships, and dating multiple partners (Manning, Longmore, Copp, & Giordano, 2014).
Youth Dating Violence is common and has consequences for all individuals involved.
- YDV affects about 1 in 3 teens in a relationship. The severity and frequency of violence varies widely on an individual basis.
- The effects of YDV can be both immediate and long-lasting. Violent relationships can continue past adolescence and tend to escalate in severity in these cases.
- YDV puts youth at risk for numerous physical, mental, and social health problems.
It is very common for YDV to go unreported. YDV is most commonly disclosed to other youth and not adults, including teachers and school staff.
- There are signs to look for, but the best way to know if YDV is occurring is by asking directly, and by making sure that teens feel comfortable disclosing to you.
Teens experiencing dating violence may face barriers to seeking help.
- Stigma and psychological factors attached to dating violence
- Fear of being blamed
- Embarrassment or shame — this is especially relevant for marginalized groups such as sexual minorities
- Self-blame for violence
- Adolescents prefer to seek informal sources of help (e.g., friends)
- More likely to consult informal sources of help for emotional YDV versus sexual or physical YDV
- Lack of protocols for screening and assisting adolescents in violent relationships
- Concerns with professionals including teachers and school staff
- Wish to keep abuse private and concerns about confidentiality
- Adolescents indicated that they would be more likely to use providers if they knew the services wouldn’t act without permission and were totally confidential, friendly, and understanding
- Isolation by abusive partner
- If violence is witnessed, victims are more likely to disclose than if it is not witnessed
YDV is preventable and can be stopped. The next sections will provide an overview of the current understanding of YDV prevention as well as how to respond to ongoing YDV.
Read more about the questions you can ask your school administration about YDV policies and protocols.
Build Healthy Relationship Skills in Your Students
Social-emotional learning is the process through which youth understand and manage emotions, achieve constructive goals, feel empathy for others, establish and maintain healthy relationships, and make responsible decisions (CASEL.org).
This learning can occur at home, in school, and in communities.
Within schools, educators can teach and model constructive communication, emotion management, responsible decision-making and long-term goal setting.
Research indicates that responding to dating violence with aggression can escalate the violence within the relationship and increases the chances of injury.
The best way for students to keep safe is for them to remove themselves from violent situations.
Teach students to stand up for themselves assertively, but not aggressively.
Teach about boundaries and consent in the context of decisions about sexual activity, being touched, and the right to say no to things they do not want to do.
Teach students to seek help when experiencing violence. This could be encouraging them to tell you or another trusted adult, and to seek support from friends.
Isolation only gives more power to the individual abusing the other.
Violence Prevention Starts Early
Research shows that youth who experience and witness violence in their childhood have an increased risk of YDV involvement.
Violence can become a pattern of behaviour, and stopping it early is essential.
Violence prevention and building healthy relationship skills starts as early as infancy. Youth need to learn how to manage their negative emotions and learn to communicate without using aggression.
YDV prevention involves teachers, community members, and other adults who work with young children, not just those working with adolescents.
Build Strengths and Capacity for Communication
- Teens who experience dating violence may have low self-esteem, may be struggling with their identity, or may have low confidence in their ability to manage a relationship.
- Students benefit from building key communication skills.
- Teach your students constructive ways of communicating.
- Demonstrate how to manage stress and negative emotion.
- Teach your students how to manage negative emotions such as anger, stress, and sadness.
- Demonstrate how to manage frustration and anger to students — model positive and constructive behaviour for your students.
- For specific strategies and activities you can try with students, please see:
Grade 9 Skills for Effective Relationships – Part II
Grade 9 Skills for Effective Relationships – Part III
- Teach your students conflict resolution skills.
- Check out the “Describe, Express, Specify, Clarify” tool from the Center for Sexuality, which will help students resolve conflicts in a constructive and non-violent way.
- Link course material to relationships/YDV, or take some time to provide examples using media such as TV, YouTube, etc.
- See some videos and activities you can do with your class!
Educate Your Students About Dating Violence and Healthy Communication
- Students need to be aware of dating violence and how to recognize it in both their own and their friends’ relationships.
- Students should understand what a healthy relationship looks like — violence is not part of affection. Students need to know how to distinguish between acts of abuse and acts of love.
- Teachers can provide information on the types of YDV and how it may present itself within relationships. YDV and healthy relationships education should be part of the school curriculum.
- Teachers should be looking for and using moments in class to educate their students about communicating in a healthy way.
- Educating students who aren’t currently in romantic relationships increases their capacity to help their friends and peer groups who may be involved in YDV.
Cyber Dating Violence
Students may not realize that abuse online or through technology is a form of violence.
Aggression online and through technology is becoming more common in teen relationships.
Learning to recognize cyber dating violence is especially important, as teens may not be aware of appropriate online relationship behaviour and boundaries.
Having conversations with your students about the safe use of technology and staying safe online is important.
Students should know that violence online is just as unacceptable as in-person violence.
Students need to be aware of how to recognize cyber dating violence, and to report it to a trusted adult when needed.
Visit our Cyber Dating Violence section for more information.
Talk About Consent and Boundaries
(adaptation from loveisrespect.org)
- Talking about boundaries is important to ensure that each person’s needs are being met and that each person feels safe in the relationship.
- Emotional boundaries: You can help your students to understand that saying “I love you” can happen for different people at different times and that they shouldn’t feel bad for not feeling ready to say the L word.
- Let students know that it’s important to have some time away from their partner.
- Both partners should be free to hang out with friends or family without getting permission. It’s healthy to spend time alone.
- Physical boundaries: Let students know that they can take their time. Getting physical with a partner doesn’t have to happen all at once.
- Sex isn’t a currency in a healthy dating relationship. Teens don’t owe their partner anything. Just because a partner buys gifts or says “I love you” doesn’t mean the student owes them anything in response.
- Digital boundaries: It can be hard to know where the line between healthy and unhealthy is once a relationship goes online. Students can check in with themselves to see what makes them feel comfortable. For example:
- Is it okay to tag or check in?
- Do we post our relationship status?
- Is it okay to friend or follow my friends?
- When is it ok to text me and what is the expectation for when we return it?
- Is it ok to use each other’s devices?
- Is it ok to post, tweet, or comment about our relationship?