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Teaching Teens about Healthy Relationships Curbs Youth Violence

By: Colleen Curtin, Youth Program Coordinator, DVN

There has been a school shooting in the United States almost every single week this year, and some weeks there have been several. These shootings hit close to home because more often than not when the news breaks, I am standing in a classroom working with students.  I am deeply troubled by these shootings. I was sitting next to a student at Arsenal Tech on Valentine’s Day talking about her plans for prom and graduation when the news alerts about Parkland came in. She is the same age as some of the students who lost their lives there, and it wasn’t difficult for her to imagine herself in their shoes. I was at a school in Indianapolis the day they received threats from a student’s social media account threatening their campus. That incident was eye opening because there is violence and trauma even in a threat that is stifled before it can come to fruition. We were shaken for the rest of the day. My heart broke a few months ago during a Youth Network meeting when our students spoke about the shootings that had taken place this school year and how it affected them and their school communities. I stood in the snow with them when they marched at the Statehouse during the March for Our Lives Rally protesting the violence that has devastated so many communities across the United States. I have been a participant in active shooter drills, and have watched how those simulations affect students and school staff long after they are over. I have listened to endless gun debates from every imaginable perspective in classrooms across central Indiana. I was at Christel House presenting to a class of ninth graders when the reports came in about the shooting in Maryland. I remember it vividly because that was the day I started paying attention to a pattern that I want to share with you.

Deep in the stories about the young people who commit these acts of violence is a recurring similarity that haunts me. School shooters are often young men targeting young women who they have histories of violence against. These young men are the perpetrators of teen dating violence, the very thing I spend almost every day talking to students about.

Recent studies of schools and school administrators have indicated that schools are not equipped to address some of the issues facing their students when it comes to teen dating violence. Academics at Ball State University recently published a study of school principals that revealed that addressing teen dating violence is an area of weakness for most schools. “The majority of the school principals reported that: they never received formal training on TDV (68%), their school did not have a protocol to respond to an incident of TDV (76%), training to assist TDV victims was not provided to personnel in their schools in the past 2 years (62%), and the school violence prevention policy did not specifically address TDV (65%).” These are enormous issues.

There are accessible solutions and I am grateful that we as a Network have the tools to address this issue. Thanks to Heather’s Law, the Indiana Department of Education website has a model policy for how to address TDV in schools, and recently our Youth Network spoke before the IPS School Board proposing that they adopt a TDV policy. I hope that other schools across central Indiana take note and follow suit. We need to be proactive not reactive about the safety of students. We know that TDV is an issue in Indiana. The Ball State study also found that, “Majority of the school principals had assisted a TDV victim in the past two years (57%), but most did not sanction disciplinary actions for TDV perpetrators (73%).”  We need to have consequences for perpetrators and support for student survivors. We can do that. Conversations about how to engage in healthy relationships need to happen earlier and more often in schools and across communities. We can do that. We need to bring attention and awareness to this issue and start conversations about how to prevent this violence at schools, in homes, in places of worship and at our workplaces. We can do that.

Further Reading

*  School Shootings in 2018: https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/02/us/school-shootings-2018-list-trnd/index.html

*Heather’s Law: https://www.doe.in.gov/safety/identifying-teen-dating-violence

* Ball State Study: Preventing and Responding to Teen Dating Violence: A National Study of School Principals’ Perspectives and Practices. Khubchandani Jagdish, Clark Jeffrey, Wiblishauser Michael, Thompson Amy, Whaley Cathy, Clark Rachel, and Davis Jackie.Violence and Gender. Dec 2017.

*More about TDV and School Shootings: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/teen-dating-violence-is-an-indicator-of-gun-violence