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  Healthy Relationships Project:
Results From Year Three


Wendy L. Josephson, PhD & Jocelyn Proulx, PhD
Department of Psychology, University of Winnipeg

The following report was distributed to the participating schools in the Dating Violence Prevention Program in June, 1999. A manuscript that presents the data in more detail, and includes further analyses, is in preparation, and will be available at a later date. Please address inquiries to Wendy Josephson at the Department of Psychology, University of Winnipeg, 515 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, MB, Canada, R3B 2E9.

This year, 433 grade 7 to 9 students participated in the Healthy Relationships project in St. John's, Gordon Bell, Victor Mager, Victor Wyatt, St. George and Glenwood schools. This brings our total number of participating students up to 1143 in the three years of the research project. In each of the three years, students in both the program and comparison groups completed a set of pre-test measures before the Healthy Relationships curriculum was implemented in the program group. Both groups completed the same set of measures in a post-test, immediately after the program group had finished the curriculum. The following results include a comparison between these pre- and post-tests for Year 3, with comparisons to the results from previous years.

Dating Relationships Among Grade 7-9 Students
As with last year, about two thirds of our sample reported having begun dating. At the time of initial testing 49% of grade 7s, 65% of grade 8s, and 80% of grade 9 students reported having begun dating. Grade 7s were the only ones who reported a noticeably higher rate at the second testing (58%). This year, boys and girls were equally likely to report having begun dating. This year's group of students reported having begun dating an average of 2 years earlier than the students from the past two years: aged 10 for grade 7students, 11 for grade 8, and 12 for grade 9. Dating relationships continued to be generally exclusive: Over 90% of students who were currently dating reported dating only one partner. The average dating relationship reportedly lasted about 4 months. Both boys and girls gave the highest satisfaction and importance ratings for current dating relationships. Girls rated their friendships as more important and satisfying than did boys.

Approximately 96% of students reported using reasoning and negotiation to resolve conflicts in dating relationships. Psychological abuse such as verbal aggression, storming out, threats, and destruction of personal property was reported in 64% of dating relationships. 80% indicated use of passive-aggressive tactics such as lying, refusing to speak, and accusations of being illogical or overly emotional. Physical violence was reported in 39% of dating relationships (mostly pushing and shoving, kicking, throwing something, grabbing and slapping, but also occasionally punching, hitting, beating up or choking, and very rarely using a knife or gun). Injury (most often sprains, bruises or small cuts, and physical pain the next day; rare reports of passing out, a broken bone, or injuries otherwise requiring medical attention) was reported to have occurred in about 14% of dating relationships. Girls reported using more negotiation than boys did. Participants described themselves as using more negotiation and less passive-aggressive tactics. Boys were also more likely to use psychological abuse and physical violence against their friends than against their dating partners.

Knowledge of Content
The first research question was how well students had learned the content of the "Healthy Relationships" curriculum. For the most part, content questions were specific to the content taught at each level, but there was a subset of questions that all grades were asked. Students were asked to choose what would be the best response in a verbal conflict situation: assertively telling the other person how one feels, aggressively telling the person to stop being such a jerk, and passively complying with the other person's demands. In all three grades, program group students were significantly more likely to change from an aggressive response to an assertive response after participating in "Healthy Relationships". The comparison group actually became significantly more likely to choose the aggressive response. Students in the program group, but not the comparison group, were also more likely at the post-test to recognize that swearing and intimidation are abuse.

Grade 7: Grade 7 students were significantly less likely to blame the victim for a verbally abusive situation after taking the program this year. They were significantly more likely to recognize that other emotions usually underlie anger, and actually identified more possible emotions besides anger in a scenario about verbal abuse. They gave significantly increased importance ratings to nonverbal cues (such as posture and various aspects of facial expression) as sources of information about another person's emotions. This was especially true for girls.

Grade 8: Grade 8 students who received the "Healthy Relationships" program showed an overall improvement on our 10-item True-False factual knowledge measure in both Years 2 and 3. Specifically, program group students increased their knowledge about television violence (including realism and effects on behaviour) and increased awareness of techniques used by advertisers to influence teenagers (including use of gender stereotypes). When presented with specific statements of gender stereotypes applied to relationships, it was comparison group girls who judged them to be false more often at the post-test. Students in the "Healthy Relationships" program did not improve at all, nor did comparison group boys.

Grade 9: For the second year in a row, grade 9 "Healthy Relationships" participants improved in their knowledge on the 10-item True-False test after taking the program. Program students had significant improvements in all three subsets of items: increased factual knowledge about relationship violence, reduced belief in stereotypes, and increased knowledge about boundary setting and jealousy in relationships. resist peer pressure (in year 2). These gains were not however repeated in year 3.

Behavioural Intent
To find out if the program had an effect on students' intentions to take action about dating violence, grade 9 students were asked to indicate how likely they would be to make four different responses if they were at a party and a boy grabbed his girlfriend's arm to keep her from leaving. In each of the three years, program group students showed significant changes in a different one of these responses, probably because of differences in what kinds of response were most emphasized during program delivery. In Year 1, there were increases (especially among boys) in reported intention to talk to the abuser about his behaviour at a later time. In Year 2, there was an increase in intention to talk to a teacher or guidance counsellor about what to do, and this year there was an increased intention to talk to the person being abused.

Self-Efficacy
To gauge self-efficacy (confidence in one's ability to successfully perform a behaviour) students at each grade level were asked several questions about whether they thought they could do a number of the specific skills being taught in the "Healthy Relationships" program. In all three years, grade 7 students showed high levels of confidence in all skill areas even in the pre-test, and failed to show overall improvements in self-confidence after taking the "Healthy Relationships" program. In Year 2 there were significant gains for grade 7 program group students in one area: being able to solve disagreements by talking it over. This year, it was the comparison group, who did not receive the "Healthy Relationships" program, who became significantly more confident in their skills.

During the first two years of the research project, grade 8 students who took the "Healthy Relationships" program became more confident in their abilities to use skills that were dealt with in the program. In Year 1, boys showed the greatest gains in self-confidence, particularly about identifying stereotypes and hidden messages in magazine advertisements. In Year 2, it was the girls who were most affected. Changes occurred on the same items as the previous year, and on recognizing peer pressure to fit in with stereotypes and resisting peer pressure. This year, however, grade 8 students showed the same pattern that we found for grade 7s: There were no significant gains in self confidence for grade 8 "Healthy Relationship' students, but the comparison group became significantly more confident.

Grade 9 students did show significant overall improvement in self-confidence this year, as they had in Year 2. (Year 1 improvements were not significant overall, but there was change that year on recognizing when personal boundaries have been crossed.) This year, girls accounted for most increases in self-confidence, with the largest gains being for recognizing personal boundaries, recognizing when personal boundaries have been crossed, recognizing the difference between "power with" and "power over" other people, and recognizing the effects of stereotypes on behaviour.

Self Esteem
For the second year in a row, students who participated in the "Healthy Relationships" program showed significant increases in their overall level of self esteem after completing the program. Last year the increase occurred for both boys and girls, but this year it was only found for girls. This year, girls' academic self esteem increased significantly, as well. These changes did not happen for students in the comparison group, although girls' social self esteem increased significantly from pre-test to post-test regardless of whether they were in the program or not.

Attitudes
Prior to the program, a strong double standard was evident: Students disapproved of violence in dating relationships, but significantly more when it was committed by boys than when it was committed by girls. Boys were also more accepting of violence, by either boys or girls, and especially forgiving of sexual and physical violence by girls. In Year 1, grade 9 boys and girls who took the "Healthy Relationships" program showed significantly less acceptance of girls' physical and sexual violence after the program, but there were no changes for the younger students. In Year 2, no changes in attitude were found. In Year 3, reduced approval of girls' physical and sexual violence was found across all three grades, but it was almost entirely accounted for by changes in girls' attitudes.

Relationship Satisfaction
Both boys and girls were more satisfied in relationships where reasoning and negotiation were used to solve conflicts, and were less satisfied with their relationships if either they or their partners were psychologically abusive, used passive-aggressive tactics, or were physically violent. The effect of the "Healthy Relationships" program in all three years was to strengthen this dissatisfaction with abusive relationships. In Year 1 it was especially noticeable for boys, and in Year 2 for girls. Dating relationships were less affected by this trend than were friendships, for both boys and girls. This year, we looked at information about relationship break-ups for the first time. We found that both program and comparison group students were more likely to discontinue a dissatisfying relationship, especially if it was violent. Program group students were almost twice as likely to break up with a violent dating partner than were students who had not taken "Healthy Relationships".

Behaviour
This year, students who took the "Healthy Relationships" program reported significantly lower incidence of physical violence and passive-aggressive tactics after taking the program. Girls showed this effect more strongly than boys. In Year 2, the this effect was only found for girls, and extended to other behaviours as well. Program group girls also reported decreased psychological abuse and fewer injuries in their relationships after completing the program than before. No behaviour changes were found for Year 1, consistent with our expectation that behaviour would be influenced only in the longer term.

Brief Conclusion
Although it is still very early in the analysis of our results, we feel confident that the "Healthy Relationships" program has had a positive effect on students who participated in the program. The most evident effect was on their knowledge of the specific content that was covered in each grade. Students' confidence in their ability to perform the skills taught in the curriculum also improved. Students consistently became less satisfied with friendships and dating relationships that were abusive in any way, and more likely to leave abusive dating relationships. These effects occurred for both boys and girls who participated in the program. Girls became even more disapproving of violence in dating relationships, were less likely to respond abusively in a conflict situation with friends or dating partners, and had higher self esteem after taking the program. We did not find these effects as strongly or consistently among the boys. We think that the results would have been even stronger and far-reaching if we had delivered the entire curriculum within each grade, rather than the small selection of activities that were chosen for the research program. Possibly, results would have been stronger for boys if our research team had included men as well as women.


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