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Curriculum Suggestions for Parenting to Keep Teens Safer from Sexual Violence in Relationships

Note to trainers: These curriculum suggestions are designed to provide some ideas for developing a program for parents (and other caregivers in a parental role) who wish to learn how to protect teens from sexual coercion and violence in dating relationships. It is intended to be used in conjunction with the document Building an Effective Parent Education Program. Trainers can use and adapt any of these ideas in a way that suits the needs of their communities. They may wish to have a different number of sessions, or different topics for some of the sessions. Resources are presented so that trainers can include additional information or substitute information as desired.

Essential Skills Parents Must Have to Promote Safe and Healthy Teen Relationships

In order to assist teens in developing and safe and healthy relationships, parents must be able to:

  1. Establish a warm, loving, and humorous parent-teen relationships
  2. Communicate both positive and negative messages in a respectful and effective manner
  3. Understand the world in which their teens live, and how teen culture differs from adult culture, particularly with respect to the use of technology
  4. Learn about the risks teens face in intimate relationships and convey that information to their children in an appropriate manner
  5. Establish reasonable, flexible, age-appropriate limits and boundaries designed to keep teens as safe as possible while not impeding their growing independence
  6. Resolve conflicts with partners in caregiving so as to give kids consistent messages
  7. Participate in self-care to strengthen their own resilience
  8. Identify or develop support systems and resources to enhance their confidence in parenting. Parents should also have the option to become activists in their communities.

Lesson One: The Challenges of Parenting Teens


  • Create a safe space for learning about parenting


  • Introductions of participants and facilitators
  • Overview of the course (both content and process)

Facilitated Discussion

  • Develop a set of agreed-upon ground rules (respectful language, confidentiality, attendance, etc.)

Activity: Warm-Up

  • Ask parents to line up across the room and then place themselves in order according to the age of their oldest child; this will encourage interaction, and probably some laughter!


  • Understanding the relationship dangers faced by teens (material presented by facilitator; possibly including scenarios and movie clips)
  • How secure and loving parent-teen relationships protect youngsters

Activity: Positive Parent-Teen Relationships & Dating Skills

  • Give parents Post-It notes.
  • Have them work in groups of twos or threes and come up with words or phrases that describe a positive parent-teen relationship, such as "safe," "honest," and "respectful," writing one word or phrase on each Post-It.
  • Then have parents place the Post-Its on a large poster that says "Healthy Parent-Teen Relationships."
  • Bring out another large poster labeled "Healthy Teen Dating Relationships." Ask the parents to move any of the Post-Its from the first poster that apply to teen relationships to the second poster.
  • Discuss how good parent-child relationships lay the foundation for healthy dating relationships.


Lesson Two: Respectful and Effective Communication


  • Help parents understand that good communication is the only way they can help teens to learn essential safety information and obtain sufficient information to keep their teens safe.


  • Principles of assertive communication (vs. passive or aggressive communication) as applied to parenting teens.
  • Overcoming communication barriers
    • A great way to discuss touchy issues with teens is to ask them what advice they would give to a friend in a particular situation. Parents could say, for example, that one in five girls is physically or sexually abused by a dating partner, and ask their teens (both boys and girls) how they would respond if a friend confided in them about this issue.
  • Nonjudgmental approaches
    • Remind parents that teens won't communicate if they feel judged. For example, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teens frequently hide relationship violence because they believe they cannot talk about their relationships with parents.

Activity: Barriers to Communication

  • Brainstorm with participants to create a list of barriers in parent-teen communication. Write each barrier on a poster or piece of paper. Some examples might be: JUDGING, PREACHING, TALKING TOO MUCH, ASSUMING, CRITICIZING, GUILTING, INTERROGATING, YELLING. See the resources below for more ideas.
  • Ask for a volunteer to play the role of the parent. Other participants will hold one of the barrier signs and respond as a teen would.
  • The "parent" should start a conversation with the "teens" about an issue of concern, such as disapproving of a boyfriend or girlfriend. When the "teen" perceives the "parent" to be engaging in one of the communication barriers, they should raise the sign.
  • Debrief with the group to explore how this felt for both the "parent" and the "teens." Ask parents to identify for themselves the three top communication barriers that are typical for them.
  • Afterwards, switch roles and try a new topic as many times as appropriate.

Activity: Scenarios & Role Play

  • Present parents with different scenarios (possibly suggested by focus groups used in planning this program) and role-play responses to the scenarios. Have the facilitators do the first two or three role-plays, and be careful not to have parents feel they are being criticized.


Lesson Three: Your Teen's World


  • Help parents understand how teens think and how technology affects their relationship safety.

Activity: What Were You Like at Age 15?

  • Ask parents to describe themselves at age 15, and write the descriptive words and phrases on a flip chart.
  • Ask them to describe how things are different for today's teens, and write those items on another page of the flip chart.
  • Discuss the differences.


  • Describe teen brain development and how judgment may be affected by lack of full maturity of the brain cortex.
  • Provide a primer on technology in today's teen world. Include information about how frequently teens text each other, for example, and how a teen in a bad relationship (or even in a good one) might be getting hundreds of text messages in the middle of the night, which parents know nothing about. Be sure to cover:
    • Social media like MySpace and Facebook
    • Text messaging
    • Instant Messaging
    • Exposure to internet pornography by very young children as well as teens - how to talk to teens about the destructive messages about sex and relationships that porn portrays
    • Dangers of impulsive posting of pictures and messages
    • Sexting - the legal implications, inadvertently hurting others, being victimized
    • Parental controls on computers, and monitoring of computer use and sites visited
    • Parental limits on screen time
    • Media messages about sexuality and sex role stereotypes, and how these contribute to vulnerability to dangerous relationships
  • You may want to consider inviting a panel of teens or college students to give at least part of this presentation, and be sure to have computer access so you can show parents what you are describing, not just talk about it.
  • In talking about internet safety, be sure to emphasize that there is more danger to teens (emotionally, physically, and sexually) from intimate partners or "friends" than from strangers, although of course teens should be cautious about strangers as well.


Lesson Four: Risky Relationships


  • Dispel myths about adolescent relationship abuse and provide parents with tools for prevention.

Activity: In Their Shoes: Teens & Dating Violence

  • This is an interactive activity/game developed by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Available at
  • The game comes with a facilitator's manual. It will require some preparation time. The game itself takes approximately an hour and a half, depending on how many participants are involved.


  • Reiterate that teens are most at risk from people they know, such as dating partners or ex-partners.
  • Discussion of red flags for relationship violence and intimate partner sexual violence, and how teens may be targeted with con games. See the resource "Unmasking Sexual Con Games" below.
  • Use the handout Strategies for Parents to Enhance Teen Relationship Safety as a discussion guide.


Lesson Five: Setting Limits


  • Help parents to understand the value of good limits and safety practices.


  • Discuss the necessary changes in limit-setting and rules as teens progress from age 13 to independence
  • Let parents know that teens will ultimately make their own decisions about partners, despite what parents think. Obviously the age of the teen makes a big difference in how parents handle this, but it is nearly impossible to keep a determined teen from contact with a toxic partner.
  • Overly harsh limits will lead almost inevitably to dishonesty by teens.
  • Cultural values must be taken into account here, while also recognizing that many teens are more assimilated into mainstream American culture than their parents.

Facilitated Discussion

  • Develop discussion topics tailored to your participants, and facilitate discussion of how parents know what is appropriate, the role of consequences, and their true goals in raising children

Activity: Reasonable Guidelines Based on Age

  • Divide participants into small groups based on the age of their children.
  • Have the group decide on and write down the five top disciplinary guidelines for the age range.
  • Come back together as a large group so participants can discuss the guidelines and learn from each other.

Lesson Six: Adults Who Have An Impact - Positive or Negative


  • Help parents to understand that having appropriate, supportive relationships with other adults gives teens a safety net.

Activity: Diagram of Adults in Your Teen's Life

  • This activity is to be done individually and not necessarily shared with the group. The facilitator should draw a sample diagram on a flip chart to explain how to do this activity.
  • Have parents take one sheet of paper and draw a square in the middle of the page, representing their teen. Then have them draw a circle with their own name in it, close to the square, representing themselves.
  • Have them think of the other adults (parent, stepparent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, neighbor, older sibling, teacher, etc.) who are close to their teen or have an impact on their teen's life, and draw circles representing each of those adults. The more impact the adult has on the teen, the closer the circle should be to the center of the page.
  • Next, have them put a plus sign, a minus sign, or both a plus and a minus in each circle, to show whether the relationship between the adult and the teen is positive, negative, or mixed.
  • Ask parents to reflect on what they have drawn. Have them think about how the adults with positive relationships could help their teens to make good relationship choices. Have them consider what impact the "negative" or "mixed" adults have on their teens, and whether the parent is in a position to modify that impact.


  • Discuss the importance of having parents in two-parent homes, co-­parenting separated parents, and other adults (such as stepparents or grandparents) who live in the household give consistent messages to teens. Suggest strategies for helping other adults to understand how their behavior and attitude affects teens.
  • Help parents to understand that having appropriate, supportive relationships with other adults gives teens a safety net. Sometimes it is easier for a teen to discuss problems (especially sexual problems) with an adult who is not their parent. A good relationship with a grandparent or older sibling, for example, may be a lifesaver for a teen, and is no reflection on your parenting abilities.
  • If parents discuss problematic relationships in class, don't get into details, but discreetly provide information about family counseling, domestic violence programs, or other appropriate resources.

Activity: Identify Messages in Pop Culture

  • The facilitator should bring video clips, songs, and excerpts from teen magazines that portray various aspects of teen culture, particularly with regard to relationships.
  • Use a tool to help parents analyze the messages from the media. Here are a couple of suggestions:
    • Watch the 8-minute trailer for the film "Miss Representation." Have participants discuss the ways in which women are portrayed in the media and the impact that has on all teens.
    • Use the "Sound Relationships Nutritional Label" activity that can be found on page 19 of Media Savvy Youth. Have participants come prepared with songs that their teens listen to.
  • Encourage parents to think about the impact that the larger society has on teens - what messages are teens receiving from movies, TV, video games, books, and the internet about relationships?


Lesson Seven: Taking Care of Yourself


  • Encourage parent self-care and resilience.


  • Parents can't handle teen issues well when they are stressed, frustrated, depressed, or coping with overwhelming personal issues.
  • Parents need not feel guilty about taking time for themselves and enjoying themselves.
  • Remind parents that they are role models for their kids; if they are miserable, it will be hard to raise happy and productive children.

Facilitated Discussion

  • Have parents identify their favorite self-care activities. If a parent is stuck ("I don't do anything for myself"), ask them to reflect on what they enjoyed in the past, and think about any version of that activity that would fit into the present. For example, someone who enjoyed traveling around the world may now enjoy day trips to explore new places locally.
  • Have parents talk to each other about barriers to self-care, and brainstorm solutions.
  • Acknowledge how difficult it is to care for oneself during times of stress or trauma, and how very vital it is to do so.
  • Encourage the class to have fun with this topic.

Activity: Building a Self-Care Kit

  • Use and adapt the activity "Coping and Healing Kit" in WCSAP's IPSV Support Group Guide to show participants how to identify healthy activities that make them feel better. Find instructions on page 30 and printable cards in Appendix D.
  • This is a fun activity but requires some preparation.

Lesson Eight: Getting Support, Making A Difference


  • Help parents develop a plan to sustain their efforts and encourage community action to support parents generally.

Activity: Words of Wisdom

  • Use a flip chart, a large poster board, or any large paper. As a whole class, or in small groups, have parents write down "words of wisdom" for other parents - the legacy of this class.
  • Discuss what parents have learned in this program.

Facilitated Discussion

  • What do parents need in order to continue the focus on relationship safety for their teens?
  • What existing resources do they need to access, and what additional resources do they wish were available?
  • Encourage parents to think about how they can create resources or invite others to do so, if none are available for the specific needs they identify.

Activity: Identifying Current & Needed Community Resources

  • Remind parents that teen sexual coercion and violence is a societal problem, not just a personal problem. Any lasting solutions need to include changes in how communities address the needs of teens and families, and in the messages we give about relationships and sexuality.
  • Have parents brainstorm specific activities to contribute to ending teen intimate partner sexual violence. For example:
    • Ensuring that sexual harassment prevention is taught in schools.
    • Advocating for evidence-based teen violence prevention curricula to be used in the community.
    • Participating in awareness activities, like Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
    • Joining existing programs that combat sexual violence, such as prevention programs sponsored by local community sexual assault centers and domestic violence centers.
    • Advocating for policy and legal changes to enhance teen safety.
    • Raising awareness of teen intimate partner sexual violence - either formally, by participating in a prevention program, or informally, by sharing what they have learned with other adults.
  • Discuss how the larger community can and should support parents in their quest to maintain teen relationship safety, and how parents can participate in that effort.
  • Give parents index cards and ask them to write on one side a "next step" they will take at home based on what they have learned in this program and on the other side a "next step" they will take in the community to enhance teens' safety.

Activity: Graduation!

  • Give parents a certificate of completion.
  • Consider having a celebration with refreshments.


  • Create a resource table with library materials, brochures, and flyers on local services and programs. Invite parents to take materials with them so they can follow up on support services and community activism.

WCSAP Related Content

Reviewed: December 3rd, 2015