Students were nowhere near Boise High School Tuesday morning, yet advocates for appropriate teen relationships chose the school cafeteria as a backdrop to huddle with parents about how best to foster healthy relationships for their sons and daughters.
“We're doing a lot of work in high schools to prevent teen dating abuse and sexual assault by promoting healthy relationships,” said Kelly Miller, executive director of Idaho’s Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. “What we found in that work is that we really needed to be in the middle-school age group: 10- to 15-year-olds.”
Approximately 50 parents carved time out of their weekday schedules to attend the workshop, where Start Strong Idaho team members and teen interns led the adults through a series of exercises designed to build healthy relationships.
A major focus of the Start Strong workshop was gender equality.
“Four hundred fifty teens told us in a survey that they experienced gender equality most of the time up until the age of 12," said Miller. "But then it takes a big drop down to 50 percent at age 13.”
Miller said 13-year-olds also begin feeling pressure to begin dating. The mixture of pressure to be in a relationship along with a lack of equality in a relationship can create what Miller called "a perfect storm."
A project of the coalition, Start Strong Idaho has focused primarily on middle-schoolers for the past four years, defining strategies for building and maintaining healthy dating relationships. Some of the initiative's more successful outreach programs have included poetry slams, writing competitions and chalk art showcases.
“When people start to think creatively and interconnectedly about their relationships, it is easier to realize that a relationship is not about two people,” said Monica Daggett, 16-year-old incoming Junior at Bishop Kelly High School. “The more kids we are reaching, the healthier things are becoming.”
A crew from ABC News' Nightline program attended Tuesday's workshop and will focus on the coalition's efforts in an upcoming broadcast.
“It is exciting because we are seeing some real changes in Idaho in terms of some of the data and reporting of abusive relationships in high schools,” said Miller. “We hope this work we are doing in middle schools is a part of that.”