Introduction for Teachers: one health teacher’s perspective
At the present time, there does not appear to be a comprehensive curriculum for purchase that covers ALL the dating violence facts that need to be taught to our students. In addition, it appears that many schools that do teach this topic, do so in a limited fashion. Health teachers teach other health topics almost yearly, and yet this problem, which is so very prevalent, and for which the consequences can be devastating, is not given the attention it deserves. The purpose of our website is to raise the level of consciousness on this topic and to help health educators, and other interested faculty, help each other in our quest to provide students with a proper education about teen dating violence.
In order for students to learn about teen dating violence adequately, this topic needs to be taught every year from grade 7 through grade 12. In fact, for those who take a broader view, this education can begin in Kindergarten. During the early years students need to learn how to respect, care, share, and communicate in a healthy manner. During the mid-elementary years they need to learn about teasing, bullying, communication skills, and conflict resolution. Other topics such as self-esteem, decision making skills, behavior patterns (passive, aggressive, assertive) are also very much related. In middle school these topics should continue to be taught and emphasized, as well as anger and stress management. By eighth grade sexual harassment should also be included.
Teen dating violence should be taught as part of a comprehensive health education curriculum. It is not only related to the topics mentioned above but research has shown that victims are at high risk for teen pregnancy, STD’s, drug abuse, eating disorders, and depression. In addition, it is not enough to teach only about unhealthy relationships, but we also need to teach about healthy relationships. Many teens today are getting mixed messages from the media, society, home, and schools.
In order for teens to really “get it” and remember the information, we need to teach this topic progressively and in a developmentally appropriate fashion from middle through high school. What kind of message are we sending to our young people if we only mention this topic once during their school experience? And what kind of message are we sending if we do not teach about this topic ourselves in health class? If we recognize that teen dating violence is a serious problem, as the statistics so vividly illustrate, then we must treat this topic just like any other serious health topic and teach it progressively and repeatedly through the years.
Health teachers develop a special relationship with their students. Due to the nature of some of the sensitive topics that we teach, our students may view us as being more open and understanding. They know we are not afraid to discuss these sensitive topics and they know we are always there for them. Many health teachers also teach physical education or are coaches. As such they have even more contact with students. Frequently, students will confide in us because they feel we are approachable and available. It is therefore very important that we teach about healthy/unhealthy relationships and dating abuse in our classrooms, thereby sending the message to students that we not only are knowledgeable about this topic, but that we know this is a very serious and important topic for them to learn about.
It is important for school staff and parents to attend dating violence awareness workshops. Once everyone has the facts on this topic, parents will be able to have discussions with their children, thereby reinforcing the information students are learning at school, and the students will get the message that this is an important topic. Parents will also have the tools to help their teens should they be in an abusive dating relationship. In addition, by creating an open atmosphere where it is okay to discuss this information, victims will feel comfortable disclosing abusive relationships, friends will know how to help, and abusers may feel the need to control their behavior.
Education is power. Teaching about healthy/unhealthy relationships provides teens with the knowledge and skills to keep themselves and their friends safe. They become empowered to help themselves and others.
Ann Burke, RN, M.Ed.
Retired Middle School Health Teacher/School Nurse Teacher
Lindsay Ann Burke Memorial Fund