Relationship Smarts PLUS 4.0

Philosophy and Goals

Introduction

Relationship Smarts PLUS 4.0 is a lively, 13-lesson, evidence-based relationship skills curriculum for young teens. This curriculum embodies an innovative approach that addresses positive youth development, life skills, healthy relationships, dating violence, and pregnancy prevention. These goals, typically addressed in separate programs, are integrated and embedded into one comprehensive healthy relationship skills program.

Relationship Smarts PLUS builds assets and strengthens protective factors. It appeals to teenagers’ aspirations, rather than merely emphasizing what they must avoid. It empowers youth with skills needed to form and maintain healthy relationships, make wise sexual choices, and work toward their goals.

All youth, regardless of sexual orientation, have attractions, emotions, and desires for healthy relationships. All youth benefit from sexual delay and risk avoidance. All youth need skills and knowledge to navigate their relationships and make wise sexual decisions. This is an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum.

Building Models and Confidence for Healthy Relationships

Many young people today lack models of healthy relationships. A recent Child Trends survey of disadvantaged youth reported that while respondents could list general qualities for healthy relationships, and certainly aspired to have them, when asked if they actually saw many around them, the answer was “no.”* Sadly, they had little confidence they would be able to achieve a healthy relationship because they didn’t know how—they didn’t have the skills.

Relationship Smarts PLUS aims to build confidence and skills. It offers guidance on navigating the world of romantic relationships. Teens learn that healthy relationships begin with the individual—identifying personal strengths and weaknesses, understanding how one’s past influences the present, and the importance of attending to one’s own growth and development.

Relationship Smarts PLUS offers knowledge of what a healthy relationship is and isn’t, as well as insights and skills for handling the early chemistry of attraction and choosing partners wisely. Teens learn the building blocks of healthy relationships and are encouraged to identify relationship qualities they find personally important. They are provided principles to guide them in early relationship development. Frameworks to assess relationships are employed to help teens in relationship decision-making. They are provided a low-risk strategy Decide, Don’t Slide! model to guide them in reducing the potential for high-cost consequences of risky behaviors and attachment to problem people.

Relationship Smarts PLUS builds teens’ awareness of the red flags of unhealthy and abusive relationships and ways to exit those relationships safely. Teens are encouraged to set boundaries and practice drawing the line of respect at the first sign of disrespect in a relationship. Teens learn how to handle breakups and move forward.

Improving Communication Skills

This program includes a powerful set of evidence-based skills to improve communication, assertiveness, negotiation, and the handling of conflict. These skills are adapted from PREP, the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program.** Youth practice new ways to handle anger and regulate strong emotions.

They learn a technique for how to talk through difficult or sensitive issues. They learn how to more effectively raise issues and complaints, recognize hidden issues, and solve problems within their relationships. The communication skills are central to self-regulation.

New Tools for Dating Violence Prevention

Building robust knowledge and skills for healthy relationships provides a positive and proactive way to prevent dating violence. It is difficult to steer clear, or exit, a destructive relationship if all you see are unhealthy relationships and you have no clue how to build a healthy relationship. The vision-building, skills, guides, and decision-making frameworks in Relationship Smarts PLUS help raise young people’s confidence that they can develop healthy relationships.

A Heart and Health Based Approach to Pregnancy/STI Prevention

Relationship Smarts PLUS contains a missing piece in sexual decision-making and pregnancy prevention by addressing relationship issues. For example, can teenagers make wise sexual choices if they:

  • Have never clarified what’s important to them?
  • See few models of healthy relationships around them? Know little about how to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships?
  • Lack insight and skills for building healthy relationships? Lack communication and negotiation skills needed for relationships?
  • Have not been engaged in thinking about sexual meaning and encouraged to define a context and timing for sex that is meaningful?

Youth are rarely asked to think about sex beyond the usual health paradigm of reproduction, disease, and risk avoidance. A fundamental assumption of this curriculum is that sexual choices and behaviors cannot be treated in a vacuum outside of relationships and emotions. Sex isn’t just about bodies. It’s about the heart, too.

Relationship Smarts PLUS takes a heart- and health-based approach and provides unique ways to tap new sources of motivation to make safer and wiser choices. Sexual decision-making is embedded within an exploration of intimacy and linked to the development of healthy relationships. Young people have aspirations for connection, affection, respect, and love that this program speaks to. Through highly engaging activities, youth are guided to cultivate their own North Star.

This curriculum encourages teens to develop goals, boundaries, and a context and pace for sexual intimacy that is responsible, protective of their own aspirations in life, and personally meaningful. Films, music, poetry, and stories are used to inspire and help young people identify their values and develop personal plans. Teens also engage in role-plays on negotiation and refusal skills.

To clarify myths and facts regarding pregnancy, STIs, risks, and protection, medically accurate information is woven into the activities.

A New Message on Pregnancy Prevention

Many pregnancy prevention messages focus on a young person’s self-interest, as in how a pregnancy would negatively affect him or her. Relationship Smarts PLUS takes a different approach. It encourages young people to step outside themselves and look more deeply at the consequences for children of unplanned pregnancy.

By placing the child at center stage, participants see through the eyes of the child the consequences of sliding into an unplanned pregnancy and the “relationship turbulence” that often accompanies it. Examining how an unplanned pregnancy can affect a child may tap a powerful and positive source of motivation to more consciously plan to prevent a first or subsequent pregnancy.

An Activity and Media-Based Approach

This curriculum is delivered entirely through activities that are informative, fun, upbeat, and meant to affirm teen relationship experiences. Relationship Smarts PLUS is packed with lively activities that use scenarios written by diverse youth. It incorporates popular music, music videos, film, stories, poetry, drawing, sculpting, and an engaging, interactive workbook that helps teens apply curriculum concepts to their own lives. Relationship Smarts PLUS appeals equally to males and females.

Parent-Teen Connection activities for each lesson are designed to convey core material to parents or a trusted adult and serve as a catalyst for parent-teen conversations on these very important issues. Parent-teen connectedness has been found to be the strongest protective factor against risky behaviors, even beyond class, race, and family structure.*** These connection activities provide a way to partner with parents or trusted adults and mentors in helping teens navigate the choppy waters of adolescence.

An Evidence-Based Program

Relationship Smarts PLUS has completed a five-year evaluation involving over 8,000 diverse teenagers in the state of Alabama. Researchers from Auburn University conducting the study report sustained gains over time. Findings include increases in students’ realistic understanding of relationships and decreases in faulty relationship beliefs, broadened understanding of relationship aggression, and declines in aggression in relationships as compared to those in control groups.****

This new edition is based on the positive results of a five-year, federally-funded evaluation conducted by Jennifer Kerpelman, PhD, at Auburn University. As a result of its effectiveness, Relationship Smarts PLUS is listed on the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP), a service of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).****

Love Notes is an adaptation of Relationship Smarts PLUS for older youth. Love Notes is now listed as one of the leading evidence-based pregnancy prevention programs with the Office of Adolescent Health. A rigorous five-year study showed adolescent participants were significantly less likely than youth in the control group to report ever having had sex. At 12 months, it showed significantly fewer pregnancies when compared to control groups.*****

Standards Correlations

Relationship Smarts PLUS has been correlated with the national curriculum standards for Family and Consumer Sciences, Health Education, and Sexuality Education. To help with lesson plan development, you can download the standards at Dibbleinstitute.org/correlations-rq-plus/.

Instructor Tips

Each lesson of Relationship Smarts PLUS is packed with activities and plenty of information to help the instructor deliver the lessons. It is designed and organized to be user-friendly. Background information, step-by-step directions, and suggested scripts and talking points in italics are provided. A list of materials and preparation steps is also provided at the start of each lesson.

All masters for handouts will be found at the end of each lesson. Activity cards (on colored card stock) used in various lessons are located and labeled with their lesson number at the back of the manual. We recommend that you cut and place cards in a ZipLoc pouch or container.

An important feature of Relationship Smarts PLUS is the use of images, music, film, and video clips, most of which are contained right inside the PowerPoint slides for each lesson. Although we have an array of diverse young people represented in the slides, the PowerPoint slides can also be customized with photos that better represent the population you serve. You may replace any image with a photo you own the copyright to. Several video clips used in the lessons will be directly embedded within the PowerPoint slides. There are also numerous music videos, songs, YouTube clips, and short Ted Talks that are hyperlinked within the lesson’s PowerPoint slides. The PowerPoint slides and duplicate masters are accessed via a digital download page at DibbleInstitute.org/rq2downloads. Easy-to-follow directions are found in the manual and on the web page, but a Dibble representative can guide anyone through the downloading process if needed. This download will also contain duplicate masters for activity cards and handouts. You will find viewing each lesson’s PowerPoint presentation and previewing the embedded or linked media as you read through a lesson valuable in helping you prepare to deliver the lesson. Note that some of the music videos contain explicit language, but all have been chosen because of their positive message and ability to inspire and speak to aspirations.

The Teen Workbook is an essential component of the program and vital for its effectiveness. Workbooks are purchased in bulk order from The Dibble Institute. The workbook gives young people an opportunity to review, reflect, and apply what they have learned in each lesson to their own lives. The more they work these concepts into their own experiences, the more they can benefit from this curriculum. Each workbook application has been carefully designed to reinforce key concepts and skills. The final application, My Success Plans, is the capstone application. It helps them synthesize what they’ve learned and then integrate it into their own personal success plan. Let participants know this workbook is for them and you will not be reading their entries.

You can assure accountability and privacy by holding periodic workbook checks. To check for completion, quickly page through their workbooks to ensure they have completed the exercises. A classroom teacher can offer credit and points for completion. A leader in a community-based program can offer prizes or incentives for completion. The workbook check can be done quickly—at one time or periodically. Some instructors have found it useful to keep the workbooks on site for the duration of the program to ensure participants have them for use in each session.

The activities in Relationship Smarts PLUS are varied. They include role-plays, drawing, sculpting, games, and other activities that are designed to teach and reinforce the concepts with real-life scenarios young people can relate to. The curriculum is activity-driven. The point of all the activities is to engage discussion and teach concepts and skills.

The scenarios, poetry, and stories have all been written by diverse youth. The images in the PowerPoint slides, as well as language in the lessons and scenarios, are inclusive in terms of sexual orientation. Preview the scenarios in the activity cards. Select which to use according to what is best for your audience, cultural context, and institutional requirements or community standards. Feel free to tweak, add, or delete any scenarios or resources as needed. Invite teens to write up new scenarios or poetry to keep your resources fresh and relevant. Note that activity cards will often use the terms girlfriend and boyfriend. Our teen LGBTQ focus groups prefer and use those terms in referring to someone they are in a relationship with. Partner, they say, is what older people use. So when doing activities with cards, point out often and frequently these can be relationships of any sexual orientation.

Consider having music playing as students enter the room, when they leave, and during some activities. Music engages emotions and creates a welcoming atmosphere for youth. It is an important medium for youth, and it is a powerful way to connect with them. Also, ask participants to bring in music that relates to the themes on hand on a regular basis.

There is an engaging short film from Scenarios USA, Toothpaste, used in Lesson 10. The script has been written by youth and produced by award-winning Hollywood filmmakers. Activities have been designed around this film in the lesson. A copy of this video is available on YouTube.

We strongly encourage you to make full use of the Parent-Teen Connection activities in each lesson. We believe the effectiveness of this program will be amplified if participants are able to discuss the information and skills they are being exposed to with a parent, a relative, or trusted adult. The connection activities are meant not only to convey core content to the participant’s parents or trusted adult, but also to serve as conversation starters and extenders. They invite parents or trusted adults to add their words of wisdom. Be sure to find out who is not able to identify a parent or trusted adult with whom to do these connection activities. Try to recruit colleagues in the school or your program who could serve in this role for the teens in need.

We hope you’ll find these lessons easy to use. We welcome your comments, questions, or suggestions for improvement. Please feel free to contact a Dibble Institute representative who can connect you with the author, either by phone at 800-695-7975 or email at relationshipskills@dibbleinstitute.org.

Notes:

* Child Trends Research Brief (October 2009) Telling It Like It Is: Teen Perspectives on Romantic Relationships. ChildTrends.org
** For research and more information on PREP see prepinc.com.
*** ADD Health Study (The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health). For information, go to cpc.unc.edu/ projects/addhealth.
**** For more information on the Relationship Smarts PLUS study (principal investigator Dr. Jennifer Kerpelman, Auburn University), see DibbleInstitute.org/?page_id=2942.
***** Barbee, A. P., Cunningham, M. R., van Zyl, M. A., Antle, B. F., & Langley, C. N. (2016). Impact of Two Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Interventions on Risky Sexual Behavior: A Three-Arm Cluster Randomized Control Trial. American Journal of Public Health, 106(S1), S85-S90. For more information on the study, visit DibbleInstitute.org.