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Research Roundup: Family-Based Approaches to Preventing Teen Dating Violence

A happy young couple walking outdoors.

We’ve seen the role moms and dads can play helping their teens make healthy decisions about sex. But can strong parent-teen relationships and open communication lead to healthy dating relationships free of abuse? To explore this question, we looked at research describing and evaluating two family-based approaches to preventing teen dating violence.

Over at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, researcher Vangie A. Foshee and her colleagues created Families for Safe Dates to help parents and caregivers discuss dating abuse with their teens. Program participants receive six booklets of information and activities to walk through with their teens at home. Each booklet addresses a range of topics tied to healthy relationships, including how to recognize signs of dating abuse, handle conflict, and prevent unwanted sexual activity.

To gauge Famlies for Safe Dates’ effectiveness, Foshee and her colleagues interviewed 324 families at four different points in the program. Caregivers said they felt more comfortable talking about dating violence with their kids after reading the booklets, and teens said they became less accepting of dating violence. Teen participants, who were between the ages of 13 and 15, also reported fewer experiences with dating violence compared to their peers who did not complete the program.

Helping Families That Survived Domestic Violence

But what if parents and teens need extra help fostering healthy relationships because they’ve experienced violence at home? To meet this need, Foshee and her colleagues developed Moms and Teens for Safe Dates, an adaption of Families for Safe Dates for families that survived domestic violence but no longer live with their abusers. Similar to its parent program, Moms and Teens for Safe Dates engages participants in activities that aim to build protective factors like family closeness while reducing risk factors like teen acceptance of abusive behaviors and gender stereotypes.

Foshee et al. conducted interviews and focus groups with early users of Moms and Teens for Safe Dates to see what parts of the program they did and didn’t find useful. This feedback led them to add activities designed to help teens manage their anger, the authors write, and to remove activities that caused conflict instead of bringing teens and moms closer together. The researchers also added more information to help adults show their concerns for their children’s safety without trying to control their behaviors too strictly.

Foshee and her colleagues again set out to measure the effectiveness of their work by evaluating whether Moms and Teens for Safe Dates made teens less likely to experience or engage in psychological, physical, or cyber dating violenceThat study analyzed the responses of 295 families, including some that participated in the program (the treatment group) and others that did not (the control group). Participants spoke with researchers throughout the program and completed a follow-up interview six months later. 

Overall, youth were less likely to experience or engage in various forms of dating violence after completing the program than their peers who did not participate. Interestingly, youth with longer exposure to domestic violence at home were less likely to become victims or perpetrators of teen dating violence than those with less exposure to domestic violence. This finding may indicate that Moms and Teens for Safe Dates is most effective for youth at high risk of repeating abuse experienced at home, the authors write.

Read the Articles

Assessing the Effects of Families for Safe Dates, a Family-Based Teen Dating Abuse Prevention Program (abstract). Vangie A. Foshee, Heath Luz McNaughton Reyes, Susan T. Ennett, Jessica D. Cance, Karl E. Bauman, and J. Michael Bowling. Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 51, No. 4, 2012.

The Process of Adapting a Universal Dating Abuse Prevention Program to Adolescents Exposed to Domestic Violence (abstract). Vangie A. Foshee, Kimberly S. Dixon, Susan T. Ennett, Kathryn E. Moracco, J. Michael Bowling, Ling-Yin Change, and Jennifer Moss. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol. 30, No. 12, 2015.

The Effects of Moms and Teens for Safe Dates: A Dating Abuse Prevention Program for Adolescents Exposed to Domestic Violence (abstract). Vangie A. Foshee, Thad Benefield, Kimberly S. Dixon, Ling-Yin Chang, Virginia Senkomago, Susan T. Ennett, Kathryn E. Moracco, and J. Michael Bowling. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 44, No. 5, 2015.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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9-5 pm Eastern