“Why didn’t they teach this when I was in school?”
As a Family Violence Project Prevention Educator, this is something I hear frequently when I present our school-based programs to men in our Batterers’ Intervention Program. What they leave unsaid is this:”…Maybe then I wouldn’t have ended up being arrested for domestic violence assault.”
Family Violence Project has provided local high schools with information and resources about dating violence in a program that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years . Why is this prevention work so important?
Unhealthy, abusive or violent relationships can cause short-term and long-term negative effects on developing teens. Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to do poorly in school, attempt suicide and report binge drinking, They are also more likely to become victims or abusers.
Violence is a learned behavior and we know that some of these teens are witnessing domestic violence in their homes. Boys learn to believe they have the right to use violent behaviors, and young girls learn to believe that it’s just part of being a couple. What we teach them in our programs is that violence is never acceptable.
A presentation called Healthy Relationships-Teen Dating Abuse is offered to every high school in Somerset and Kennebec counties, and most have taken us up on our offer of this free information which, by the way, is part of the Maine Learning Results, required curriculum in the state of Maine.
“Thank you for coming in to teach us this information, I didn’t know that so many women were victims of abuse,”a teen from Messalonskee High. “Wow, now I know what to say and what NOT to say to my friend who is in an abusive relationship,” a teen from Winslow High. “It’s hard to imagine that some kids grow up in homes where there is an abusive parent,”a student from Waterville High. And, after watching a true story video clip about dating violence, a Maranacook HS senior girl wrote:
"That video completely explains/defines my life. THANK YOU!"
“Thank you for sharing your personal story. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
This is something I hear quite often . You see, I grew up in a home with domestic violence and I later became a victim of dating/domestic abuse. It took me years to even entertain the thought that I was a victim. Someone else having power and control over me seemed normal: It was ALWAYS my fault. I thought it was my behavior that had to change: “If only I didn’t”, “ I should have” ,”Maybe if”…..
I needed education and empowerment. I have said a million times,”I wish there were programs in my school when I was growing up.” It sounds eerily like what I hear from the men in the batterers’ program. Only I became a victim, and they became abusers.
“We are so thankful for the school based education that the Family Violence Project provides free of charge to Messalonskee High School. During the many years that the agency has provided free education to our school, we have had many students and faculty members recognize they are in abusive relationships. The Family Violence Project educator has followed up on countless cases at our school and has provided valuable resources for our people in crisis”. Messalonskee Health Teacher.
So, if abuse prevention education is so vital to the future of our kids, why wait till high school to talk to kids about violence?
Good question. FVP has developed several age appropriate prevention programs over the last 10 years. In fact, a number of teachers told us that by the time kids got to first grade, it was almost too late: The kids had already been exposed to so much violence in the media and/or at home, that it was difficult to counteract those messages.
So, we developed Bear Thoughts, a program on sharing and feelings, provided to pre-school age kids followed up by Frog Thoughts, which is presented in Kindergarten and helps kids to understand diversity and acceptance.
Hands Are Not For Hitting, presented to grades 1-3, speaks to the younger kids about anger and their choice of behaviors. Respectful Connections, for grades 4-6 helps the kids think about the types of friendships they would like to have. It explains the importance of empathy and what to do if a friend or peer says or does something that makes you uncomfortable and offends you. This program helps kids identify their feelings and communicate them in a healthy non-violent way.
“After the presentation of Respectful Connections, students are better able to identify their feelings and express them by using “I” statements which encourages less of the blame game and finger pointing and allows the students to get to the real issues and get them solved. My students use the tools to become independent problem solvers”, Grade 4 teacher, Benton.
Connecting to Me is a program presented to middle school students about self esteem and how it affects their decisions especially in regard to relationships.
“The "Connecting to Me" program addresses topics that are very appropriate in meeting the needs of today's junior high student. Today's students are challenged by dysfunctional parenting and media messages, resulting in a variety of emotional and social issues. Many students lack positive self esteem, due to lack of parental praise and support. This is demonstrated by the students' lack of coping skills, decision making skills, communication skills, resistance skills, conflict resolution, and an inability to recognize and maintain a healthy relationship. This program enhances my curriculum by supporting all these skills. One exceptional lesson in this program is the activity on warning signs of an unhealthy relationship. It provides the students with the skills to recognize early signs of relationship abuse, such as the controlling, the jealousy and the possessiveness. This is critical for many students who have an unhealthy perception of healthy relationships, perhaps due to what is modeled at home, or the messages the media sends. Another piece of the program is an important activity focusing on affirmations, assertiveness, and healthy characteristics of relationships. Students have commented to me how much they learned, stating the revelations in their own personal lives.” Waterville Jr. High, Living Skills teacher
So, while you are getting your kids ready to go back to school, you might want to consider a homework assignment for yourself. Ask them if they’ve had any of the Family Violence Project programs in their classrooms. If they haven’t, call their schools and let them know that Family Violence Project offers these programs free of charge to all Kennebec and Somerset county schools. We know from over 20 years’ experience in the classroom and over 30 years assisting victims of domestic violence, that an ounce of prevention can be worth a ton of cure!
By Lynne Dailey, Abuse Prevention Educator