Primary Sources: Stopping Teen Dating Violence Before It Starts

Young people working on computers.

Effects of the It’s Your Game . . . Keep It Real Program on Dating Violence in Ethnic-Minority Middle School Youths: A Group Randomized Trial.” Melissa F. Peskin, Christine M. Markham, Ross Shegog, Elizabeth R. Baumler, Robert C. Addy and Susan R. Tortolero. American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 104, No. 8 (August 2014).

What it’s about: It’s Your Game . . . Keep It Real is a health education program designed to delay sex and promote healthy dating relationships in ethnic-minority middle school students. The authors of this study wanted to investigate the effect of the program on the incidence of teen dating violence. To do that, they spent two years surveying 766 seventh graders at ten middle schools in a large, urban school district in southeast Texas. Five of the schools administered It’s Your Game. The other five provided the usual health education program using a state-approved textbook.

Why read it: Sexual risk behaviors and teen dating violence are often linked. But most research and interventions on teen dating violence are geared toward high school students, despite mounting research showing that unhealthy relationship patterns can start earlier. And among middle school youth, those in ethnic minority groups experience the highest rates of dating violence.

Biggest takeaways for youth workers: Overall, Peskin and her colleagues found that It’s Your Game was an effective program for preventing dating violence among ethnic-minority middle school students.

By ninth grade, the percentage of students in the control group reporting three out of the four types of dating violence behavior was higher than those participating in It’s Your Game. Specifically, students who did not receive the intervention were more likely to experience and engage in emotional dating violence and to experience physical violence. But It’s Your Game did not have a significant effect on young people's rates of being physically violent. The authors suggest that including information on when to end an unhealthy relationship, how to manage one’s emotional responses, and how to recognize the impact of traditional gender roles on unhealthy relationships may alter this outcome.

Gender differences. The researchers found no significant differences between girls’ and boys’ outcomes when it came to the lower rates of experiencing emotional and physical dating violence. However, while boys receiving It’s Your Game were less likely to emotionally abuse their partners than boys in the control group, girls in both groups were emotionally abusive in about the same amount. The authors recommend that future programs (1) portray more scenarios in which girls are abusive of boys, in balance with scenarios showing boys being abusive toward girls and (2) teach young people the skills to avoid behaving in ways that are abusive.

Racial and ethnic differences. After going through It’s Your Game, Latino youth were less likely than nonparticipants to be victims or perpetrators of emotional dating violence. African Americans receiving the intervention were less likely to be victims of physical dating violence—but not less likely to be perpetrators—compared to the control group. The authors write that these findings mirror other research on cultural norms, showing that pro-dating violence beliefs were more common among African American and Latino middle-school youth. There's a need for even more culturally-specific content in anti-dating violence programs, the authors say.

The authors suggest that some of the factors that make It’s Your Game and other dating violence programs, such as Safe Dates and Fourth R, successful include:

  • The use of technology and engaging animated characters.
  • Being grounded in a skills-building approach in both building knowledge of healthy behaviors and creating awareness of how young people perceive cultural norms.
  • Involving parents and promoting better parent-child communication.

Additional References: Learn more about teen dating violence in NCFY’s research library.

Learn more about the It’s your Game program at the University of Texas School of Public Health website.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families.)

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