Something to Talk About: Improving At-Risk Youth's Communication Through Relationship Education

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Leandra Parris

Mentor Department



Daniel Lannin

Co-Mentor Department



Many individuals first experience dating and romantic relationships during adolescence (e.g., Chan, Adler-Baeder, Duke, Ketring, & Smith, 2016); however, many adolescents and young-adults may not have skills and information that will help them achieve healthy relationships. Therefore, during initial relationship experiences, it is important for adolescents to be in positive relationships and reduce the risk of violence or negative outcomes in the relationship (Adler-Baeder, Kerpelman, Schramm, Higginbotham, & Paulk, 2007).Relationship education encourages changes in faulty relationship beliefs, and can also help develop adaptive conflict-management skills for adolescents (e.g., Ma, Pittman, Kerpelman, & Adler-Baeder, 2014). This leads to growth in areas such as identifying faulty relationships beliefs, being more aware of unhealthy relationship patterns, and managing conflicts (e.g., Chan, Adler-Baeder, Duke, Ketring, & Smith, 2016). However, research has less often examined how adolescents'communication is affected by relationship education. We hypothesized that relationship education would result in higher levels of compromising relationship behaviors, and lower levels of attacking and avoiding behaviors. Youth aged 15-24 in the Champaign Area Relationship Education for Youth (CARE4U) program completed surveys that were administered after parent permission and child assent were obtained. A total of 101 students participated in a semester-long relationship education program (Love Notes) during their school lunch hours, and completed pretest (August, 2016), posttest 1 (January, 2017), and posttest 2 (April, 2017) surveys assessing relationship behaviors (e.g., compromising, attacking, and avoiding). A total of 133 participants attended focus groups at posttest 1 that targeted the relationship education component of the CARE4U program. Qualitative analyses indicated that students found teaching on physiological changes, such as the release of hormones during certain phases of relationships, as among the most important and useful information. According to participants, hands-on activities and lively discussions were the most effective in facilitating their learning. Interestingly, participants indicated that they struggled sometimes when other people in their lives did not have or use the same relationship skills they had learned in CARE4U. In these instances, it was harder for participants to regulate their emotions and utilize "healthy" communication. This highlights the importance of collaborating with families to increase exposure of curricula objectives to family members, friends, and other stakeholders. Results of quantitative analyses indicated no statistically significant effects for conflict-resolution styles from pretest to posttest 1 (ps > .24) or from pretest to posttest 2 (ps > .10). Results of this mixed-method study indicate that relationship education engages students, but that barriers to implementation of relationship skills are salient. This research suggests the need to influence students' families and larger communities, while also assessing alternative quantitative measures that capture changes in attitudes toward relationships, beliefs about healthy relationships, and relationship outcomes.



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