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Building an Effective Parent Education Program to Prevent Intimate Partner Sexual Violence in Teen Relationships

Sexual assault programs often identify teens as an important and accessible audience for their prevention efforts, frequently delivering their messages in the context of a school-based program. While the direct messages to teens are important, programs should also consider involving parents, who have regular access to and influence over their own children. The social ecological model explains how programming can become more effective when it addresses prevention not only at the individual level, but also the relationship level, which includes both peers and parents. Designing a program to engage parents creates an effective complement to school-based programming, surrounding the teen with positive messages about healthy and safe relationships and sexuality. We offer step-by-step tips and curriculum suggestions for designing a parent education program in Curriculum Suggestions for Parenting to Keep Teens Safe from Sexual Violence in Relationships.

Before you begin, consider this list of common sense tips and research-informed principles for developing your program. Additionally, review the "Nine Principles of Effective Prevention." As you know, these guidelines help ensure the effectiveness of prevention programming. Our tips for developing your program rely on these common sense and research-informed principles.

1. Define your audience.

Do you want to restrict your target group to a particular audience, such as a faith-based group, or keep it open to a larger community? You may wish to focus on the parents of young people with whom you are already working in order to maximize the effects of your prevention program, or you may cast a wider net to create an informed community network.

2. Build community partnerships.

These partnerships build a sense of "ownership" and involvement that will ensure greater success and sustainability for your program. Who needs to be at the table to plan your program? The following considerations will help you get started: Who has the power and influence to help implement plans? What youth-serving agencies and parent-serving agencies exist locally? How can you include both parents and youth in the planning process? How can you find community partners who are representative of the target group to be served? How can you reach out to fathers as well as mothers, and to adults serving as parents?

3. Assess the needs of your community.

Is there any information available about sexual violence in teen relationships in your locality? What do community members have to say about this topic? What is the level of knowledge and awareness about teen intimate partner sexual violence in your community? What preliminary work needs to be done to increase awareness and identify parents who would benefit from an educational program? Is it feasible to conduct focus groups or surveys of parents and/or teens?

4. Identify ways to measure success from the beginning.

Be sure to think about your goals and how to measure the effectiveness of your parent program. Ask yourself, "What are we trying to accomplish? How will we know whether we have succeeded?" Select evaluation tools and resources that meet your needs and your capacity, and remember that simple measures can provide valuable information. Perhaps students or faculty from a local college or university would assist with your evaluation efforts.

5. Respect adult learning styles and community values.

Adults learn best in an interactive, supportive environment, with well-planned activities that encourage them to apply information to their own lives. Check out WCSAP's new online course on Adult Learning Styles, available under Ongoing Advocacy Training at Consider whether there are specific cultural factors or community values that should help to shape the way you present material. Your community planning partners can be of great assistance in addressing these issues.

6. Decide on the "who, how, why, what, where, and when."

A well-planned curriculum is a must.

  • WHO will facilitate this program? If co-facilitators are involved, it is crucial to allow time to work together on the planning process. Consider having other parents or teens present certain segments of the curriculum. (For example, consider having teens give a presentation on social media and show parents some sample Facebook pages!) If you have a variety of presenters, it becomes even more important to establish a consistent framework for each segment of the program.
  • WHY are you selecting the particular information you are offering? Once you are clear about the need for this program, practice a two-minute "elevator speech" to explain the value of educating parents.
  • Determine the logistics, such as HOW you will fund and WHERE you will house the program. Consider possible barriers (such as transportation, disability access, language access, and child care) and brainstorm strategies for addressing these barriers with your community partners.
  • As you consider WHEN the group will meet, you may wish to identify potential participants, and then establish a meeting time that is convenient for as many as possible. You will also need to determine an effective and realistic number of sessions.

7. Customize the curriculum for your audience.

Consider the parents who will be attending the program. What is their educational level? What specific stressors might they face (for example, is this an economically depressed community)? Are they single parents, couples, or a combination? Are they foster parents or grandparents raising their grandchildren? What is the age range of their children? Keeping the program interactive and incorporating "lessons learned" from ongoing evaluation will ensure that you have feedback from participants to help you tailor your materials to their needs.

8. Have the group set ground rules.

Parents need to feel safe and welcome in order to fully participate in the group. Use a portion of the first session to facilitate a discussion of ground rules that will help to create a positive and respectful atmosphere. Developing this type of collaborative process offers a model of supportive communication that parents can bring home with them. Parents of teenagers can certainly benefit from practice in handling conflict and negotiating a variety of viewpoints!

9. Choose appropriate activities and prepare for them ahead of time.

Activities are a great way to encourage participation of a diverse group of individuals, but they can't be "thrown together." Each activity should be carefully chosen to fulfill a specific learning objective and all facilitators involved in the activity must be well prepared. It is helpful to test the directions you will give the group on a few colleagues in advance of the lesson, so that you can modify your instructions when you see puzzled faces!

10. Make it fun!

Parenting is stressful work, and parenting teens is not for the faint-hearted. Help parents understand the role of humor both in dealing with teens and in maintaining their own sanity! The lessons need to be structured enough to provide the desired information and skill building, but flexible enough that the group can "bond" and enjoy their time together. A few snacks always enhance enjoyment, if your budget will allow or participants are willing to pitch in.

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Reviewed: April 12th, 2016