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On-Site Staff / Staff Leadership and Management

Girls and the Scary World of Relationships- How Your After School Program Can Encourage Healthy Choices


There comes a time in a girl’s life (and boy’s for that matter) when the opposite sex no longer have “koodies.”

Once girls discover that they like boys, there is no turning back the hands of time- they have entered the point of no return. By this I mean that all common sense is out the window. Girls enter this “boy crazy” stage in about 6th grade and it gets severely out of control in middle school- trust me! However, it is important to work with our female students on setting and keeping boundaries as well as identifying what a positive relationship (should they choose to be in one) looks like.

I chose the topic of teen relationship violence because I have had many students lose themselves in unhealthy relationships- all for the sake of having a boyfriend. We tend to think of relationship violence as a “domestic violence” issue- one that involves a husband and wife. Relationship/dating violence actually applies to anyone in an intimate relationship- heterosexual or homosexual. This is an issue that is affecting young people.

Here are some statistics that prove this point:

  • Nearly 1 in 3 (29%) teens that have been in a dating relationship experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse, or threats of physical harm to a partner or self. Source: Liz Claiborne Inc./Family Violence Prevention Fund Survey, 2009.
  • 1 in 3 teens reports knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, or physically hurt by a partner. 45% of teen girls know someone who has been pressured or forced into having intercourse or oral sex. Source: Liz Claiborne Inc. Teen Dating Violence Survey, 2005.
  • Only 33% of teens who have been in or known about an abusive dating relationship report having told anyone about it. Source: Liz Claiborne Inc. Teen Dating Violence Survey, 2007.
  • Girls and women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence. Source: Callie Marie Rennison (2001). Intimate partner violence and age of victim, 1993-1999. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Now, do you see my point?

As after-school program providers, we have a responsibility to provide our students with information that will foster positive, healthy choices. Students rely on their friends for a lot of information on all sorts of issues. However, only about 51% of tweens claim to know the warning signs of a bad/hurtful relationship (source: Of those who are in an abusive relationship, 61% tell a friend and 30% tell no one.

Education and awareness are key!

There are two main driving forces behind abusive relationships: Power and Control.

Teen relationship violence can be described as a pattern of controlling behaviors that one person does to another to gain power and maintain control in an intimate relationship (or even just “hooking up”/hanging out/dating/spending time with). The three main types of abuse that teens are exposed to are physical, emotional, and sexual.

Some potential warning signs include:

  • Unexplained and repeated injuries
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Change in attire (abusers will often dictate what clothing their partner can and can’t wear)
  • Constant texting or calling from partner
  • Boyfriend/girlfriend checks their partner’s cell phone or reads text messages
  • Withdrawn/ quieter than usual
  • Comments such as “he/she won’t let me go to the after-school program” or “he/she doesn’t like it when I wear skirts”
  • Making excuses for boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Nervous, anxious, or easily distracted
  • Constant put-downs- in person or through text/email/online
  • Possessive or extremely jealous partner
  • Boyfriend/girlfriend pushes past the sexual comfort zone of partner

Adapted from and Love Is Not Abuse Curriculum.

There are several ways to integrate this information into your program. Strategies include:

1.) Facilitate a discussion about what a healthy relationship looks like

2.) Invite a guest speaker to share information with students

3.) Discuss the Dating Bill of Rights (visit

4.) Request a free copy of the Love is Not Abuse curriculum developed by the Liz Claiborne, Inc.

5.) Host a parent education workshop

6.) Provide a quiz on the topic to students to determine their level of knowledge and follow up with a group discussion

7.) Have students participate in an awareness campaign at your school, which can include the development of Public Service Announcements, display boards, fundraising for a local domestic violence shelter, etc.

8.) Make resource information is available in counseling offices, nurse’s offices, and/or your after-school program designated area.

9.) Publicize the number for the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: 1-866-331-9474.

There are plenty more ideas that can easily be integrated into your program. Everyone needs to know how to recognize healthy behaviors and more importantly, how to practice them.

Remember, this is an issue that both boys and girls need to learn about.

If you have questions please feel free to contact me or research the countless resource websites on the internet. Although the following list is not comprehensive, it does provide you a good starting point for downloading resources, publications, etc.

By the way, this morning I had a yummy bowl of Kellog’s cereal with strawberries and soy milk- what did you have?

Author: @gaby

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