Educators are buzzing over a survey released last week, suggesting that young teens encounter physical and psychological abuse in their fledgling relationships.
The study was released by Start Strong, a nationwide program operating in 11 communities, including Oakland, which provides educational outreach for youth and families to help them to recognize and deal with psychological and physical abuse in relationships.
In Oakland, the program has operated in four middle schools, running after-school workshops with youth volunteers from local high schools and family dinner nights to educate entire families.
The data, gathered by RTI International for Start Strong by giving 1,430 students written questionnaires in the fall of 2010, indicates that many students are dating in middle school and have already encountered physical and psychological abuse in relationships.
A total of eight middle schools were surveyed nationwide, including four with Start Strong programs and four without.
According to the survey, 75 percent of seventh grade students reported ever having a boyfriend or girlfriend, 37 percent indicated they had been victims of psychological dating violence in the past six months, 15 percent were a victim of physical dating violence, and 37 percent had been a victim of sexual harassment.
"We don't know nearly enough about dating and relationships in middle school and we need to know more," said Deborah Gibbs, deputy program director for the Women, Children and Families program. "Not only are they dating, but they're already experiencing dating aggression and dating violence," she said
For the last 10 years Sonoma Valley Unified School District has combated bullying in middle school with Safe Schools, a program which trains sixth, seventh and eighth graders as "School Ambassadors" to reduce conflict among their peers. But little is in place to deal with domestic abuse, a tricky subject for adults, among minors.
But parents of teens and pre-teens, we want to hear from you: How do you speak to your children about safe relationships? When do you allow them to date? How do you supervise their interactions? And, do you feel that your child is safe and supported at school?
Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is by Bay City News and Alexis Fitts. Additional research from the Start Strong program will be released later this year, evaluating the program's progress by comparing similar data collected from the eight schools, comparing the four schools with Start Strong programs to the four without.