New Dating Seminars Target Teen Violence School officials are worried that too many teens are hitting and slapping the person they're dating. Across the country, schools have opened this fall with programs to help kids understand that hitting is not the way to get your point across.
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New Dating Seminars Target Teen Violence

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New Dating Seminars Target Teen Violence

New Dating Seminars Target Teen Violence

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

Today in Your Health, we have stories on preventing violence in the relationships of both the old and the young, beginning with some school officials' worry that too many teens are hitting and slapping the person they're dating, and that's led to more schools bringing in experts to address dating abuse.

NPR's Brenda Wilson has this report on teaching love and respect in the classroom.

BRENDA WILSON: Lessons in dating used to be a staple of 1950s educational films. In this clip, a group of teens discuss how to say no and still keep your friends.

(Soundbite of educational film)

Unidentified Girl #1: Well, what about the problem of boys, their - well, their hands, you know?

Unidentified Boy #1: Lucy.

Unidentified Girl #1: But seriously. You get home from a date. This boy has probably been good company on the date. But just give him half a chance alone, and there's just no stopping him. Moral: Don't spend time alone with him.

(Soundbite of music)

WILSON: These days, boys, and now girls, are pressuring each other to have sex. Dr. David Wolfe, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, Ontario says it has to do with how they're socialized. Most boys still learn how to be boys by being with boys, and girls still learn how to be girls by being with girls, up until adolescence when things change.

Dr. DAVID WOLFE (Professor of psychiatry, University of Toronto, Ontario): They're now trying to relate to the opposite sex. And the simplest way I have to explain it is they're not very good at it. There's a lot of confusion. Girls may end up being physically aggressive because they think that's what boys do when they interact. They punch and they poke. The guys may be very controlling because they think that's what works in relationships with other guys. I got to tell them what I want to do.

WILSON: And now there are a lot more influences heightening the risk of aggressive behavior.

Dr. WOLFE: Kids absorb their culture, especially in adolescence, and it's a very violent and abusive culture. And it's - violence is entertainment.

WILSON: And no one wants to be thought of as a wuss, and alcohol and drugs -and this is the world in which young males and females begin to relate to each other.

In response, schools and communities have felt the need to do more than show educational films. There are programs called Safe Dating, Student Connection and My Strength.

Ms. IESHA OTARA(ph): What if your partner does not want to be around his friends because he doesn't want to be around your friends, either?

Ms. TABITHA JOYNER (Teacher): What is that called, if someone is always wanting you around?

Ms. OTARA: Isolation?

Ms. JOYNER: Right. Isolation and possessiveness, right? When someone - they're like, you can't go be with other people. You need to be under me, all the time all time. That is a warning sign number one, like we said, right, of an abusive relationship.

WILSON: An exchange between teacher, Tabitha Joyner and 17-year-old Iesha Otara at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in Washington, D.C.

Joyner is an educator with the violence prevention group called Break the Cycle.

Ms. JOYNER: So why don't you guys tell me what is a healthy relationship?

Ms. OTARA: It's a relationship where in the...

Mr. RODRIGO COCA(ph): Everybody has communication.

Ms. OTARA: ...everyone is happy.

Ms. JOYNER: Okay. Is everyone happy all the time in a healthy relationship?

Mr. COCA: Well, no - communication.

WILSON: But Joyner tells them they should feel happy about the relationship, and they say a relationship should make them feel safe, confident. And, of course, as teens, they insist on respect.

Ms. JOYNER: You should feel respected, and you should feel like your opinions matter, right? It's not always we do what you want to do. And when you don't agree everything, you should be able to do what? It's another C word. Communicate, yes, but what else?

Mr. COCA: Work it out together.

Ms. JOYNER: Which sometimes called what? Sometimes what do you have to do?

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

Unidentified Woman: Comprehensive?

Mr. COCA: Compromise.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILSON: But 16-year-old Rodrigo Coca has his doubts.

Mr. COCA: Is there really a relationship like that, like perfect like that? I mean, does it really exist? Because I personally never known any relationship...

Ms. JOYNER: How many of you have ever known anyone in a perfect relationship?

Mr. COCA: No.

Ms. JOYNER: It doesn't exist, right? No. What we're writing up here - what we're writing down are the characteristics that we should be aiming for, right? These are the things that we should have. But yeah, there are people have really good communication, who compromise, who love each other, who are stable, who feel good. Yeah, that exists.

WILSON: Many of the programs go one step further. Psychiatrist David Wolfe's program breaks it down so kids can see when a person is using aggression and how to deal with it by using role-play.

Dr. WOLFE: We simply want them to feel comfortable that they could say to someone, you know, I don't like what you're doing, here's what I like to do instead. We want them to identify healthy and unhealthy responses, and then practice enough to feel comfortable with it.

WILSON: Wolfe says the longer you can delay abusive, aggressive behavior, the less likely it will turn up in later life.

Brenda Wilson, NPR News.

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