Health & Human Services
Parents can help prevent teen dating violence by teaching their children how to spot the signs, promoting healthy, respectful relationships and creating protective environments. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed Dating Matters to provide tools and resources on teen dating.
Dating Matters: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships is a comprehensive teen dating violence prevention model to stop teen dating violence before it starts. It is an evidence-based teen dating violence prevention model that includes prevention strategies for individuals, peers, families, schools and neighborhoods. It focuses on teaching 11- to 14-year-olds healthy relationship skills before they start dating and reducing behaviors that increase the risk for dating violence, like substance abuse and sexual risk-taking.
The program includes seven primary components that work together to reinforce protective factors and reduce risk factors for teen dating violence across the social ecology – at the individual, relationship and community levels. These components also focus on preventing dating violence and promoting healthy relationships across the lifespan.
It was designed for local health departments with access to schools, community partners, state and local government and other public health resources. However, other organizations can use the Dating Matters model to coordinate comprehensive dating violence prevention efforts in their communities.
Dating Matters was developed between 2009 and 2011 in response to growing concern from the public and policymakers about the risks of teen dating violence. At that time, very few evidence-based primary prevention programs existed for teen dating violence, and none had been evaluated in high-risk urban environments.
CDC recognized that public health organizations, like local health departments, offer unique resources for delivering comprehensive, community-level prevention strategies due to their access to multiple sectors and populations.
As a result, CDC developed Dating Matters and sought to:
- Develop, implement, evaluate and disseminate a comprehensive prevention model to promote respectful, nonviolent dating relationships and decrease emotional, physical, and sexual dating violence among youth in high-risk urban communities.
- Build local public health capacity to implement evidence-based and evidence-informed violence prevention strategies across the social ecology.
How the programs were developed
From 2011 to 2016, CDC conducted a demonstration project of Dating Matters in Baltimore, Chicago, Oakland and Fort Lauderdale. The agency examined the feasibility, sustainability, effectiveness and cost of this comprehensive model for preventing teen dating violence in these four communities.
Local health departments in these cities recruited middle schools in neighborhoods identified as having above average rates of crime and economic disadvantage. While research suggests that young people in these communities may be at higher risk for dating violence, previous research had not studied prevention programs in these populations. Forty-six middle schools were randomly assigned to implement either:
- The Dating Matters comprehensive teen dating violence prevention model.
- A standard-of-care model.
The youth were surveyed annually to assess their exposure to dating violence and related behaviors. Some students were also surveyed as they began high school to examine the long-term effects of Dating Matters. This rigorous longitudinal, randomized-controlled trial provides the strongest evidence available to understand the effectiveness of the Dating Matters prevention model. Short-term findings from the Dating Matters middle school evaluation are expected in 2019. Findings about long-term effects were analyzed in 2020.
The youth and parent programs were developed from the existing evidence on what works to prevent teen dating violence. CDC also adapted and created new evidence-informed strategies to address gaps in the existing programming.
Programs for parents were also included in the Dating Matters comprehensive prevention model. CDC adapted the sixth-grade parent program from an existing evidence-based program called Parents Matter! that promotes open communication and positive parenting with children about sexual health. The adapted Parents Matter! for Dating Matters includes new content that addresses healthy dating relationships and teen dating violence.
The seventh-grade program, Dating Matters for Parents, was designed by CDC to help parents establish positive communication with their kids to discuss dating relationships and healthy behaviors. The eighth-grade program is Families for Safe Dates. This existing evidence-based program was selected based on evidence that it can prevent physical teen dating violence victimization. The program consists of guides for family conversations at-home about dating violence and healthy relationships.
Parent programs were:
- Parents Matter! for Dating Matters – sixth grade
- Dating Matters for Parents – seventh grade
- Families for Safe Dates – eighth grade
Is Dating Matters Effective?
To find out if Dating Matters helps prevent teen dating violence, CDC compared youth who participated in Dating Matters to those who participated in another evidence-based prevention program (Safe Dates). Researchers randomly assigned schools to either implement Dating Matters or the comparison program, Safe Dates, to see if Dating Matters was more effective than what was available at the time (also known as a comparative randomized controlled trial).
CDC surveyed students at multiple time points (also known as a longitudinal research design) starting in the fall of sixth grade before they participated in any prevention activities and again each spring and fall through eighth grade. The students were also surveyed once a year in high school to see if the effects lasted beyond the implementation of Dating Matters in middle school.
CDC statistically examined differences between those who participated in the full Dating Matters model versus those who participated in the other evidence-based program. CDC also examined differences between two groups (or cohorts) of students who participated in each year of implementation during sixth-eighth grade and between boys and girls. The effects described below show the average effects across groups of students and over time throughout middle school.
Effects in Middle School
CDC found that during middle school, students in schools offering Dating Matters reported lower levels of teen dating violence perpetration and victimization and lower use of negative conflict resolution strategies than students in comparison schools. Teen dating violence outcomes were examined only for those who reported dating before or during middle school.
Middle schoolers who participated in Dating Matters also reported lower levels of:
- Bullying perpetration
- Cyberbullying perpetration and victimization (females only)
- Physical violence perpetration
- Weapon carrying
- Alcohol and substance use
- Sexual violence perpetration and sexual violence victimization (females only), and
- Sexual harassment within and outside of dating relationships