Lessons from Literature
homeabout the program curriculum councilget the facts

Getting Ready to Teach


Using literature to engage teens in meaningful discussions and reflection about abuse may be a less familiar approach to some teachers. The following information may be helpful to you and your students as you prepare to discuss these sensitive yet important topics.

Teen dating abuse describes actual or threatened acts of physical, sexual, psychological, and verbal harm, including stalking and economic coercion by a partner, boyfriend, girlfriend or someone wanting a romantic relationship. It includes violence between two young people in a current or former relationship and can occur among heterosexual or same-gender couples. It can also include using the internet, social networking sites, cell phones, or text messaging to harass, pressure, or victimize.

Abuse among peers can also occur when there is no romantic or sexual intent or relationship. It can include using harmful language, social standing, technology, intimidation, physical violence, threats, and exclusion. Peer relationship abuse is often tied to race, class, sex, sexuality, and gender.

Lessons from Literature helps students:

Power and control dynamics in relationships

The terms power and control refer to how power in an intimate or peer relationship can be used, either positively or negatively, to control or influence another person. Abusive uses of power in a relationship can lead to physical, verbal, and sexual violence. Often, such violent behavior and choices are preceded by other damaging, more emotionally-based abuse.

For example, abusers often attempt to control their partner by:

  • Using coercion and threats
  • Using intimidation and manipulation
  • Intending to shame or humiliate
  • Derogatory or hurtful language
  • Isolating, minimizing, denying or blaming
  • Using people or things one cares about
  • Using financial control

Refer to the Power and Control Wheel (345 KB) as a visual aid and for more examples.

Consequences of abuse

The consequences of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse can impact the victim, the abuser, their friends, family, school, teammates, community and the greater society.

These consequences can be temporary or permanent. In addition, they can be physical, emotional, health-related, economic, social and sexual.

Some forms of relationship abuse, specifically physical and sexual assault, are illegal and consequences can include suspension, expulsion or even incarceration.

Alternatives to violence

Alternatives to violence are those behaviors and actions that do not cause or have the intent to cause harm. Each situation is unique, and the options on how to behave respectfully and non-violently will vary. When considering alternatives to violence, students should understand that it’s important to treat others how that person would like to be treated. Learning to avoid violence is critical to personal safety and success, and ultimately to developing healthy relationships.

Personal boundaries

Having personal boundaries and respecting those of others are important to healthy relationships. Everyone has the right to create and communicate personal boundaries for how they want to be treated.

Personal boundaries help define personal interactions that are consensual, comfortable, non-threatening and respectful. Creating personal boundaries includes defining and knowing how you want to be treated.

Communicating personal boundaries includes telling others your expectations and expressing when your boundaries have been crossed.

Principles of respectful behavior

Setting and following rules of respect is critical to success when teaching a challenging topic such as relationship abuse in the classroom. Challenge students to create their own principles of respectful behavior and apply these principles in their everyday lives.

Some examples of principles of respect include:

  • Know that you deserve to be treated well by your partner, friends and others
  • Treat others with the way they wish to be treated
  • Catch yourself to think of alternatives before you say or do something that may harm someone, even if you are angry or jealous
  • Refuse to use language that is harmful, intimidating or derogatory
  • Speak up against damaging or inappropriate language and behavior
  • Refuse to laugh at or encourage harmful jokes and behavior
  • Refuse to behave abusively or violently towards others

Refer to the Respect Wheel (339 KB) as a visual aid and as a starting point for creating personal principles of respect.


"15.5 million U.S. children live in families in homes where there is violence."

–Journal of Family Psychology