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Summary

Healthy relationships provide an opportunity for positive youth development, but for unprepared youth, romantic relationships can lead to unhealthy risks. The importance that relationship education to be both timely and relevant is vital for youth as they are just beginning to have and understand romantic relationships. In an effort to educate youth on the importance of developing positive and healthy relationships, the Jasper County 4-H Agent administered eight lessons from the “Relationship Smarts” curriculum to 106 students at Jasper County High School.

Situation

The high prevalence of dating among adolescents reinforces the importance of relationship education as more youth report being involved in a romantic relationship. By the time teens reach the 11th or 12th grade, 77% have been involved in some type of romantic relationship. Research shows that these relationships are developmentally significant in many ways. These early romantic relationships often provide the first opportunities for teens to understand communication and conflict management and how to better manage their emotions outside of less intimate relationships previously held with their family members and friends. These relationship experiences ultimately serve as the foundation for future relationships as the adolescents grow older. They can have also implications on the success of their future intimate partnerships. It is during these early dating experiences that teens often begin exploring their sexuality. Such encounters can sometimes lead to teens facing an unplanned pregnancy. The rate of teenage girls becoming mothers is declining tremendously in Georgia and across the country according to a recent report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even so it is still a serious issue for our state. In 2012, Georgia ranked 17th highest in the nation for teen birth rate. The birth rate for Georgia teens ages 15 – 19 was 41 per 1,000 teens in 2010 while the national rate was 34. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy says that teen childbearing in Georgia cost taxpayers at least $395 million in 2010. Statistics show that more than 90% of teen mothers are unmarried. Teens having babies has been said to be a start of the cycle of poverty. Added costs include the likelihood of health problems in teen births and the lower educational levels associated with poverty. Teen mothers are less likely to graduate from high school, and their children are more likely to grow up in poverty. While some youth have an opportunity to witness and learn from couples in relationships who serve as good role models, others are exposed to negative and often abusive interactions between couples and are poor role models for them. In the United States, nearly one in three adolescent girls is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner. In Georgia, 33% of high school students report getting into a physical fight with their romantic partner in the past year with 16% admitting to being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend. Patterns of dating violence often start early and carry on through adulthood with the highest rates of intimate partner violence experienced by females ages 16 to 24.

Response

Research has shown that educational programs on healthy relationships and marriages can help youth develop positive communication and conflict management skills and reduce their risks for intimate partner violence and teen pregnancy. In September – October 2019, the Jasper County 4-H Agent presented eight lessons from the “Relationship Smarts” curriculum to 106 students at Jasper County High School where at least 84 (94.4%) were in the ninth grade. Programming included approximately nine total contact hours with each student and was delivered over the course of nine days. Each meeting included hands-on learning activities and in-depth discussions that reinforced the program content presented. The lessons focused on maturity issues and values, attractions and infatuation, the foundations of healthy relationships, making clear decisions when faced with challenges, dating violence and breaking up, skills to improve communication and conflict management, and the impact of technology and social media on relationships and themselves.

Impact

A brief survey was administered to participants following the end of the program to assess changes in participants’ beliefs related to topics covered during the program and their confidence in their ability to use the skills learned. Of the 106 youth in the program, 93 (87.7%) completed the overall program evaluation survey. In general, a majority of the participants (75.9%) felt that they were either a little more confident or a lot more confident than before the program in establishing healthy relationships. When they were asked how likely they were to use the skills learned in this program, again a majority (82.8%) of the respondents reported they were very likely, likely, or somewhat likely to use the skills learned. In regards to how helpful the program was to the participants, a majority (60.9%) felt that it was either helpful or very helpful to them. Additionally, 37 or 40.2% of the youth reported that they would refer the program to their friends. In the end, 48.9% of the students felt better about themselves after completing the program. These results suggest that the program participants on average reported gaining awareness and understanding of what it means to have a healthy relationship and feeling more confident that they can use these skills and behaviors in their everyday lives. One teen shared that going through this program “will help me communicate with friends and family more, and it can help me with my relationship.” Another participant said “It helps you change as a person and gives you tips on how to maintain a good relationship and how to handle things.” One summarized his/her feelings by stating “I feel that this program will help me discover better and healthier relationships with my family and partners.” Additional positive comments included a student stating that “It will help me better explain and express my ideas, thoughts, and feelings to loved ones” while another added that “this program will help me know if I’m in a good relationship and have a better future.” Lastly, numerous students reported similar remarks in their evaluations with references to common themes such as making better choices in the future, identifying bad signs or red flags in a relationship, being able to identify abuse better, developing stronger coping skills, handling arguments in healthier ways, and being more aware of the dangers of what they post or share through text messages and online through social media.

State Issue

Youth & Family Development

Details

  • Year: 2020
  • Geographic Scope: County
  • County: Jasper
  • Location: College Station, Athens
  • Program Areas:
    • 4-H Youth
    • Family and Consumer Sciences

Author

  • Hall, Kasey R.

Collaborator(s)

CAES Collaborator(s)

  • Farner, Kristi N.
  • Futris, Ted G.

Non-CAES Collaborator(s)

  • Leia Rylee
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