Youth Prevention Program
When it comes to prevention, our mantra is “early and often.” Our prevention curriculum starts in Kindergarten, but it is never too early to establish a strong foundation for healthy and safe human interactions. WISE’s Elementary School Program builds on lessons from year to year to develop protective skills, empathy and safety. Program content for students in Kindergarten through 5th grade reinforces the age-appropriate messages known to increase protective factors and decrease risk factors for violence.
Young people need to know that there are adults in their lives who they can reach out to for help and support and who will protect and care for them. The existence of strong and supportive relationships with adults other than their parents has been identified as an asset for developing healthy, caring and responsible young people.
Activity Overviews are sent home with students at the end of our prevention lessons at school. They are meant to inform caregivers of the lesson content and to provide support for reinforcing the messages at home.
Everyone deserves information about how their body works and what their body needs to be safe and healthy. Having accurate terminology for all body parts reduces a child’s likelihood of victimization as they are more self-aware, able to communicate what their bodies need and have the proper words if they need to ask for help. It is helpful to distinguish between public and private body parts. Public body parts can be visible in public places, and private body parts are kept covered in public places. Adults and older children do not need help from kids to take care of their bodies. If there is an adult or teenager who has an injury or disability, an adult would help them, not a kid.
Our bodies give us information all of the time about how we are feeling, what we like, what we do not like and when something does not feel quite right. Paying attention to the messages our bodies give us is important for safety. This helps us cope with our emotions in healthy and productive ways. Listening to our bodies encourages us to ask for help when we are confused and helps us to notice our internal radar telling us that we might be unsafe. Identifying and defining our needs sets us up for a lifetime of healthy relationships with others and most importantly, with ourselves.
We have so many feelings. They change often, they vary from the feelings of others, we express them differently, and sometimes they catch us off guard. When we learn how to describe and identify our feelings, we are able to access our individual coping strategies and ask for help if we need it. Learning to connect our emotions with physical sensations is an essential skill for emotional regulation.
It is not okay for us – or anyone else – to use our feelings as an excuse to hurt others. When problems arise, we can access the coping strategies we have brainstormed and practiced, which helps us respond to conflict in ways that are productive and minimize the potential for harm.
Consent is something we do throughout our whole lives. Setting the expectation of asking for permission instills the positive, pro-social behavior from the very beginning. In elementary schools, we talk a lot about asking for permission – we always ask other people for permission before we touch them, and we should expect that others will always ask us for permission.
We can model consent when we interact with the children in our lives. When talking with younger kids, it is helpful to focus on the reasons for touching (wiping, washing, medical attention, ensuring safety) with an emphasis on the person’s comfort level who is being touched. “I need to hold your hand to cross the street to help keep you safe.” When there are times that you have to touch your child and they do not want you to, explain the reasoning and try to give as much choice as possible. For example, “You need help cleaning your bottom after going to the bathroom. Would you rather have me or your [other caretaker] do it for you?”
We can also model asking not to be touched and remind children to ask before they touch others. Helping children notice how pets show whether they want to be touched or left alone can provide other opportunities for teaching consent.
In our culture, greetings and goodbyes are often accompanied by some kind of physical touch. You can help children navigate this by giving them a choice in how they say hello and goodbye to others. You might say, “Grammie is here. How would you like to say hello?” or you might ask “How would you like to say good night to everyone?” It can be helpful to offer suggestions such as hugs, waves, high-fives, shaking hands, kisses or blowing kisses.
It is important that children know that touches should never be secrets. Keeping secrets is often a tactic that abusers use to keep children quiet about their abuse. You can help them brainstorm adults who they can ask for help if they feel uncomfortable about a touch or if someone is touching them without permission. Kids should know that they can always say no to touches that they do not want, and that there are people they can talk to if someone does not listen to them or if a touch makes them feel uncomfortable. Practicing letting children say no to touches with trusted people (friends and family) builds their skills and capacity to ask for help if they are ever abused. When children are sexually abused, the abuse that they experience may not physically hurt. Kids often describe feeling mixed-up, confused or scared. In our lessons we talk with kids about who the adults are in their life who they could ask for help when needed.
2nd Grade, Asking for Permission Activity Overview
Throughout our programming, we emphasize the importance of recognizing our inner most thoughts and feelings. By fifth grade, we introduce the concept of gender stereotypes and how they limit our ability to live up to our potential, live life to the fullest and be the most authentic version of ourselves. Adults are critical in creating the space and opportunity for children to become their whole selves. The expectations we set for children matter, and society sends a lot of harmful messages to children about gender. We can create a community where people can express themselves and interact with other people in a multitude of healthy ways, regardless of their gender. This not only supports their individual growth and development, but also encourages empathy for their fellow classmates and disrupts the norms that are connected to violence later in life.
Allow children to dress in clothes that are functional, appropriate and feel comfortable. You can have conversations about what types of clothing are appropriate for certain settings without reinforcing gender norms. For example, “when we go to school we make sure our private body parts and tummies are covered” or “when we dress for a special occasion and need to look extra nice we might wear a dress, a shirt with a collar or nice pants without any rips or stains.” We can teach them about appropriate dress without reinforcing gender stereotypes. You can have similar conversations about haircuts and hair styles. We can help children make choices that support being healthy, manageable, and hygienic while being conscious about how gender might influence these decisions.
Support children in engaging in hobbies that reflect their interests. Strict gender norms hold young people back and set them up for a lifetime of limitations.
Counteract the harmful messages in the media that reinforce gendered expectations. Ask questions about what you are seeing as girl or boy things in their friend group or media circles and remind children that anyone might like a particular color/toy/game.
Encourage children to have a healthy relationship with their emotions and expression, such as giving space for children to cry, be nurturing, energetic, smart, artistic, etc., regardless of their sex or gender.
Try to offer alternatives to the gendered expectations that are so common in the toys they play with, which sections they are allowed to shop, games they play and media they consume.
5th Grade, Me Cube Activity Overview
Middle School is rife with pressure – fitting in, navigating friendships and experimenting with the kind of people we want to be – adding to the background of social expectations and media that tell us we are not doing it quite right. WISE’s Middle School Program engages students in age-appropriate conversations around sexual harassment, consent, media and relationships. The program provides positive information and tools before students are saturated with less helpful messages. We work with middle school students to explore how they want and deserve to be treated in all their relationships and how they can promote violence-free school communities.
The pressure to fulfill gendered stereotypes – and how to break free – is a key focus of our work with middle school students. An adherence to traditional gender norms is a significant risk factor for dating and sexual violence. We can help young people build a critical analysis of stereotypes about gender by making it a part of everyday conversations.
6th Grade Program, Activity Overview
It is developmentally appropriate for young people to start exploring crushes and dating relationships in middle school. Asking for permission to be in someone’s physical space is the bare minimum requirement when it comes to relationships. To foster healthy relationships, consent includes showing care and understanding for others. We talk with middle school students about asking proactive questions, paying attention to body language and making sure everyone is free to say what they want. Our motto is “consent is not confusing.” If you are ever confused or unsure about how someone is feeling or what they want to do, that means you have to stop until you are clear.
7th Grade Program, Activity Overview
We get lots of messages about what our dating relationships are supposed to look like – mostly based in stereotypes rather than real life. Stereotypes make it easy for us to take on certain roles within relationships, whether or not they work for us as individuals. We work with eighth grade students to reflect on the stereotypes we have learned about relationships (friendships and dating) and think critically about the harm stereotypes cause. You can brainstorm with your middle school student ways to reinforce the qualities and characteristics which they value in relationships (regardless of a person’s gender), as well as strategies for supporting friends who are in unsafe relationships. Having such conversations now will establish a norm around you talking about relationships together, which will be of great benefit in the years to come.
8th Grade Program, Activity Overview
Students who participate in WISE’s High School Program are significantly more likely to recognize warning signs of abusive behavior, intervene in risky situations and access local resources for help. WISE engages teenagers in understanding the cultural and historical context of gender-based violence. Students learn the dynamics and realities of domestic and sexual violence, and the opportunities that exist every day to make our communities safer for everyone. Students think critically about aspects of our culture that normalize gender-based violence, make violence seem inevitable or minimize the impacts of experiencing dating or sexual abuse. We can all help the young people in our lives be a part of making our communities places where everyone can thrive.
Gendered expectations are reinforced – subtly and overtly – in nearly every aspect of our lives. We are made to believe that there are only two types of people, and that we must conform to one of the two. People who do not appear to follow gendered expectations experience higher rates of bullying, harassment and violence. Research shows that violence is also a tactic used against people when they are not conforming to these expectations: men and boys who appear weak, women and girls who are not accommodating and people who are LGBT and therefore living outside of the either/or expectation. Communities with a strong adherence to traditional gendered roles have increased levels of gender-based violence. Communities that eliminate gender stereotypes also eliminate gender-based violence.
The two biggest warning signs of an abusive relationship are jealousy and put-downs. These behaviors can start showing up early in the relationship. Jealousy in particular can sometimes feel good at first, like the person really cares about the relationship. It can be masked as love, a lack of trust or as if others are trying to ruin their relationship.
Abusive behaviors trickle in slowly, which can make it look like individual incidents and not a pattern of abuse. Having an open dialogue with teens about their relationships is important for their development of safe and healthy relationships. You want to be someone who they can go to with questions about their relationships. If you are worried about their relationships, be careful not to make them feel like you are judging their choice of partner. Instead, point out the behaviors that are concerning, be curious about what they think of the relationship and model healthy ways to be in relationships. If you are concerned that they may be unkind or careless to their partner, point out the behaviors and reinforce the values that make them kind and respectful partners. Remind them that it is okay to end a relationship that does not work for them.
The teen power and control wheel depicts the most common behaviors in an abusive relationship. Notice that power and control are at the center of the wheel because the abusive person uses the tactics to gain power and control over their partner.
As we say in the younger grades, asking for permission to be in someone else’s physical space is the bare minimum when it comes to relationships. When we talk with teenagers about consent, we focus on four principles: choice, active, ongoing and equal power.
CHOICE: It might seem obvious, but we have to actually ask and talk with our partner. Consent cannot be implied. We need to have an ongoing conversation to figure out what we all want. In order for our partner’s yes to be real, they have to know that it is okay to say no. If they are feeling pressured to say yes, are afraid of negative consequences from saying no or are tricked into saying yes, they are not giving consent because they do not actually want to hook up.
ACTIVE: Active consent means that the person is actually acting or behaving like they want to hook up. They have said yes, and also seem really into it. Paying attention to our partner’s body language shows that we care about them, and we do not want them to say yes just because they feel pressured or afraid to say no. We only hook up with people who want to hook up with us too.
PROCESS: Consent is not a contract. We should always pay attention to our partner because we know that sometimes people change their minds. Just because someone said yes to us before does not mean they are going to say yes again. Just like sometimes we want to drink tea, and sometimes we are not in the mood.
POWER: There are some people who have more power than others. Sometimes we can work to minimize the impacts of power imbalance, for example, when someone has more money or popularity. In these cases, it is the responsibility of the person with more power to make sure consent is active and ongoing and that they are not using their power to pressure the other person into saying yes. Other times there is no way to equalize power, for example in teacher/student, coach/athlete, boss/employee, or adult/minor relationships. The power that a coach has over an athlete does not allow for the athlete to make a genuine decision because there are too many potential negative consequences to saying no or even positive consequences for saying yes. Therefore, it is not possible for someone to consent.
Outside of schools
We are committed to ensuring that all young people in the Upper Valley have access to our Youth Violence Prevention Program. Our programs are flexible and relevant for camps, after-school programs, the homeschooling community, and other youth-centered organizations. Let us know how we can design programming for your needs, whether virtually or in person. We offer additional virtual activities for you to use and we are happy to provide assistance. Our programming focuses on achieving specific learning objectives for each age group. Please reach out to us and schedule a phone conversation about how we can meet your needs. If there is additional programming that would be helpful for you, we customize activities and learning opportunities.
Learn more about how we can integrate these life lessons into your curriculum.
All WISE educators are certified advocates in Vermont and New Hampshire and are able to provide support. We are also mandated reporters of child abuse or neglect.