Teen dating safety lessons offered in some Philly schools

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Learning to form healthy relationships is part of the classroom education in more than half a dozen Philadelphia schools.

At Feltonville Arts and Sciences, 6th graders Heaven Greene and Ketalinn Switchett are up out of their seats, a giggle-inducing activity as they respond to each other's movements.

However, the two know the underlying message is serious, one of who is in control. The goal of the course is to educate students about teen dating abuse before it happens.

"We try to catch young people at a critical age. Where they're developing a sense of values, their understanding of relationships," said Christian Hayden of Women Against Abuse.

Hayden is a community educator with the SAFER program, which stands for Safety Awareness for Every Relationship. SAFER classes are currently taught in more than a half dozen Philadelphia schools.

"We're growing up here and it's important for us to know this type of stuff," said Greene.

Switchett said she thinks the information seeps in a little better the sooner you start to hear it.

"When you're in high school they try to talk to you about that stuff and you blow it off. The more you get into it when you're younger, the more it sticks in your brain," she said.

Teen dating abuse is more common than you might think. National statistics indicate 1 in 3 adolescents is a victim of abuse by a dating partner.

Abuse can take many forms: physical, emotional, psychological, even technological abuse, which is emerging. It can include controlling and threatening behaviors through texts and social media. Parents might have no idea it is happening.

"It's kind of like cyberbullying but it's more emotional for other people," said Greene.

Hayden says understanding this for a teen can be crucial to setting boundaries.

"Understanding this can be a boundary you set and you can set boundaries with your emotions, your bodies as well as technology," he said. "The idea is to equip teens with the knowledge they need to identify unhealthy relationships, no matter gender or orientation. Even thinking about queer communities- lesbian, gay, trans- if we're more open and accepting they will be able to be more open and accepting they're feeling in relationships."

One of the main lessons: communication is key. Being able to talk about it helps in identifying abuse and healing from it.

"It really doesn't matter who you are. People can be abused," said Greene. "Know that you are not alone."

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