by Amy Merrill
A Gem State program, designed to curb teen dating violence, came into the national spotlight this week as The Sunday New York Times examined Start Strong Idaho: Building Healthy Teen Relationships, crafted by the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. The story, which appeared in the June 3 edition of The Times, was the fifth-most viewed story on the Times website as of June 5.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report one in four adolescents suffer verbal, physical, emotional or sexual abuse every year. Start Strong Idaho reported that the number of Gem State students reporting abuse by a dating partner dropped 22 percent drop from 2007 to 2009 and dropped another 17 percent from 2009 to 2011. But Start Strong was quick to remind that there is a continuing need to promote healthy teen relationships.
In its efforts to relate to middle school- and high school-aged teens, Start Strong regularly sponsors poetry slams, flash mobs, chalk art contests and lesson plans. Additionally, movie relationships are examined, using films such as The Hunger Games and the Twilight Saga as examples.
Kelly Miller, executive director of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, told Citydesk that teens are given tools to recognize unhealthy relationships.
“[We help them] on how to act if they see something they know is happening,” said Miller. “Young people have that opportunity to engage.”
Miller said abuse didn't generally occur in a dark alley or out of sight, but rather on weekends and around other teens.
New York Times reporter Jan Hoffman traveled to Boise in May to visit a Start Strong event, the ChalkHeart competition held at The Boise Art Museum that drew 400 people.
Start Strong Idaho is one of 11 national recipients of $1 million grants from the Robert Wood Foundation to help young people understand healthy relationships. The Start Strong program uses four main strategies: implementing a healthy-relationship curriculum in local schools; encouraging policy and social changes needed to support healthy relationships; utilizing and engaging teen leaders, teachers and parents to mentor youth; and employing social media networks to reach youth.
Seventeen lessons take place in public schools during health class, covering communication and negotiation, and teaching teens how to talk to their peers. Drug and alcohol use is a topic addressed as well in the context of relationship skills.
In addition to the classroom hours and outside activities, a teen-friendly website provides help references and tools for determining healthy relationships and questions teens can ask themselves to assess their personal relationships, and do’s and don’ts of social media and texting.