Those who join the program are trained to become part of the “teen advisory board,” a group that meets weekly to plan programs and create educational tools designed to inform parents, teachers, and their fellow students about the tenets of a healthy relationship, and safe strategies for breaking up.
“They are able to make a real difference, and they are able to see that difference,” says Start Strong Boston director Casey Corcoran of his teen volunteers. The initiative targets 11-to-14-year-olds, an age where holding hands still gives kids the shivers, but a ripe time to prepare them for the whirlwind of high-school relationship drama, says Corcoran.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Blue Shield of California Foundation have invested million in the cause and partnered with a leading domestic-violence organization, Futures Without Violence, to design and implement the initiative in 11 cities.
From Austin to Los Angeles to Wichita to the Bronx, the Start Strong program is educating and engaging groups of teens to act as advisers to local youth, teaching them safe and smart ways to end relationships gone awry.
Manipulation and verbal insults are “nothing short of abuse,” says Hampikian, now 18.
“It does the same thing to you emotionally.”The trouble began when Hampikian attempted to break up with her first boyfriend. “He told me I was the only thing he was living for,” she says.
A memorial service for Lauren Astley was held July 16, with nearly one-thousand mourners filing into the local Trinitarian Church.
Recordings of Astley singing rang from the rafters, and while it was a moment to cherish the memory of his daughter, Malcolm Astley took the time to point out one vital lesson to be learned.
“What used to be done face-to-face or with a phone call now might be posted on Twitter or Facebook,” he says.
And even if the home is a healthy one, the issue of breaking up is rarely addressed.
“The reasons we don’t talk to teens about breakups is because we’re not comfortable with them as adults,” says Corcoran, “either because we don’t feel like we handled them well when we were teens, or because we feel like we don’t know the skills involved in a healthy breakup.” But there are concrete tactics one can learn.
Astley’s murder sent shock waves through the Boston suburb of Wayland.
As her father remarked, “such losses bring on the great fact of the inexplicable.” But while such incidents seem to defy explanation, Lauren’s murder is an extreme consequence of the larger issue of teen dating abuse, and oftentimes, teen breakups that result in violence.