Feb. 14, 2019

How can we prevent teen dating violence?

Future teachers and social workers learn to build healthy youth relationships

Many people are amazed to discover that one in 20 Canadian teens experiences physical dating violence. Research has shown teens who experience physical or psychological violence in their adolescent dating relationships have a significantly greater risk of experiencing abuse in their future adult romantic relationships.

“Adolescent dating violence can have serious and long-term effects on health and well-being, and has potential impacts not only on survivors, but also on those around them,” explains Faculty of Social Work researcher Dr. Deinera Exner-Cortens, PhD. “Teachers and social workers play a vital role in cultivating healthy relationship skills in adolescents, as well as in recognizing signs of dating violence and responding effectively in those situations.”

On Jan. 30 and Feb. 6, a symposium series hosted by Shift: The Project to End Domestic Violence in the Faculty of Social Work and the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary, brought together 60 future teachers and social workers to learn more about the issue, and to discuss how they can work together in the future. The event also brought media and public attention to the pervasiveness of violence in adolescent dating relationships, and the importance of stopping the violence before it starts.

Interdisciplinary collaboration needed to effectively prevent and respond to teen dating violence

“Teen dating violence is a complex social issue that cannot be solved by one group or discipline alone,” says Lana Wells, director of Shift, and Brenda Strafford Chair in the Prevention of Domestic Violence. “Professionals from diverse sectors, parents, policy-makers, and youth themselves need to come together to collectively address and prevent violence. The symposium series aims to spark dialogue on how we can work together to support the well-being of youth.”

Advancing Healthy Youth Relationships and Social Justice: Ways to Prevent Teen Dating Violence in Schools and Communities equipped social work and education students with the knowledge and competencies needed to create the environments and social conditions that help young people build healthy relationships.  

Dr. Darren Lund, PhD, a professor in the Werklund School of Education, says he was keen to partner with his social work colleagues to help raise awareness among pre-service professionals. “I recognize the strong links between our faculties,” says Lund. “I’m eager to reach the shared goals of reducing violence, along with fostering equitable and safe environments for professionals in their schools and communities. It’s exciting to know that the real beneficiaries of our collaboration will be the future clients and students of these participants.”

Teachers and social workers important advocates for youth

Participants showed great enthusiasm for the symposium, and many expressed a desire to have more events on preventing teen dating violence. As organizer Lianne Lee points out, this demand suggests that future teachers and social workers want more training in the area.

“It’s definitely encouraging,” says Lee, director of the Alberta Healthy Youth Relationships Strategy (AHYR) at Shift. “Research tells us that when schools and communities promote healthy youth relationships, they play a key role in protecting against teen dating violence. Building the capacity of future educators and social workers in these areas, therefore, enables them to become advocates for the next generation.”

AHYR was created by Shift in partnership with the Government of Alberta to support the implementation of the Alberta Family Violence Prevention Framework, which incorporates a primary prevention approach to stop violence before it starts. Preventing teen dating violence and combating its negative impacts on youth, including depression, suicidality, and substance misuse, are key components of this framework.

Shift developed new content for, and is also conducting research on, the symposium series as part of a national study led by PREVNet and funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada. The study seeks to understand how teacher education programs can better support teachers to prevent teen dating violence in schools.