A recent summary of research results for the Connections Program
My study is a four-year follow-up to two previous studies. ( Gardner, S., Giese, K., and Parrott, S. (2004). Evaluation of the Connections: Relationships and Marriage Curriculum. Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies, 53, p. 521-527 and Gardner, S. (2001). Evaluation of the Connections: Relationships and Marriage curriculum. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences Education, 19, 1. http://www.natefacs.org/JFCSE/vol19no1/vol19no1.htm)
The first two studies found that the Connections curriculum led to:
- Increased knowledge of key relationship concepts.
- Decreased dating violence.
- Increased positive conflict resolution skills.
- Decreased teen pregnancy risk factors.
- Improved positive attitudes toward marriage.
- Improved attitudes toward using marriage preparation and enrichment classes in the future.
- Increased communication with parents.
- Decreased trouble at home.
The studies also show that students who completed Connections became less likely to see divorce as an easy out.
The recent follow-up study found the Connections curriculum positively affects some of the most important relationship outcomes even four years later. For example, those taking the class initially used dating violence 2.5 times more than the control group, but ended up four years later being three times LESS likely to use violence in their relationships. Additionally, students taking the course show a four times greater increase in self-esteem over four years as compared to students who do not take the course. Lastly, the students taking the curriculum show a two-fold increase in family closeness, while those not taking the class show a nearly three-fold decrease in family closeness over the same four-year period.
If we are looking for positive impacts on close relationships, family relationships certainly fit the bill for this age group.
The study also shows that further research is needed. The students were only 20 years old at the four-year follow-up, so the most important potential long-term impacts of the program will not be seen for several years. After the students marry, we will see whether they are more satisfied in their marriages and divorce at lower rates.
It is unrealistic to expect that a three-week course for 17- and 18-year-olds will provide life-long inoculation against the poor relationship patterns they have developed over years. Students who are certified by the Red Cross in CPR and First Aid may be able to save lives while the techniques are fresh in their minds, but they are required to take refresher courses every few years to remind them of the crucial steps in the process. Learning healthy relationship skills is no different.
The final take-away here, I believe, is that we need to provide teens with more relationship skills programs on an ongoing basis in order to reinforce and make habitual the new skills they are learning.
Scott Gardner, Ph.D.