The Science

Dating Matters was developed between 2009 and 2011 in response to growing concern from the public and policymakers about the risks of teen dating violence. At that time, very few evidence-based primary prevention programs existed for teen dating violence, and none had been evaluated in high-risk urban environments.

CDC recognized that public health organizations, like local health departments, offer unique resources for delivering comprehensive, community-level prevention strategies due to their access to multiple sectors and populations.

As a result, CDC developed Dating Matters®: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships, and sought to:

  • Develop, implement, evaluate, and disseminate a comprehensive prevention model to promote respectful, nonviolent dating relationships and decrease emotional, physical, and sexual dating violence among youth in high-risk urban communities.
  • Build local public health capacity to implement evidence-based and evidence-informed violence prevention strategies across the social ecology.

The Demonstration Project

From 2011 to 2016, CDC conducted a demonstration project of Dating Matters in Baltimore, Chicago, Oakland, and Ft. Lauderdale. CDC examined the feasibility, sustainability, effectiveness, and cost of this comprehensive model for preventing teen dating violence in these four communities. Learn more about Dating Matters successes in these communities.

Local health departments in these cities recruited middle schools in neighborhoods identified as having above average rates of crime and economic disadvantage. While research suggests that young people in these communities may be at higher risk for dating violence, previous research had not studied prevention programs in these populations. Forty-six middle schools were randomly assigned to implement either:

  1. The Dating Matters comprehensive teen dating violence prevention model, or
  2. A standard-of-care model
Comparison Group Table
Dating Matters Comprehensive Prevention Model Standard-of-Care Model
Youth Programs
  • Dating Matters for 6th Graders a
  • Dating Matters for 7th Graders a
  • Safe Dates for 8th Graders b
Youth Programs
  • Safe Dates (8th grade)b
Parent Programs
  • Parents Matter! for Dating Matters (6th grade)c
  • Dating Matters for Parents (7th grade)a
  • Families for Safe Dates (8th grade)b
i2i: What R U Looking 4?  Youth Communications Programa
Dating Matters Capacity Assessment and Planning Toola
Dating Matters Training for Educatorsa
Dating Matters Interactive Guide to Informing Policya
Dating Matters Guide to Using Indicator Dataa

a CDC-developed, evidence-informed prevention strategies.
b Evidence-based dating violence prevention program.
c CDC-adapted, evidence-based parenting program.

How Were the Programs Developed?

Youth in 6-8th grades were surveyed annually to assess their exposure to dating violence and related behaviors. Some students were also surveyed as they began high school to examine the long-term effects of Dating Matters. This rigorous longitudinal, randomized-controlled trial provides the strongest evidence available to understand the effectiveness of the Dating Matters prevention model.  Short-term findings from the Dating Matters middle school evaluation are expected in 2019. Findings about long-term effects are expected by 2020. Access all currently available publications about Dating Matters here.

The youth and parent programs in Dating Matters were developed from the existing evidence on what works to prevent teen dating violence. CDC also adapted and created new evidence-informed strategies to address gaps in the existing programming.

Youth Hero

CDC chose Safe Dates in 8th grade as the standard-of-care prevention model and as the Dating Matters 8th grade program in the Dating Matters comprehensive prevention model because it is one of the most widely used evidence-based programs to prevent teen dating violence in the United States. The Dating Matters comprehensive prevention model also includes 6th and 7th grade youth programs developed by CDC based on existing research showing what works in teen dating violence prevention. These programs are designed to be developmentally appropriate and complement Safe Dates, with additional content that addresses:

  • Healthy and unhealthy behaviors in all relationships, including peers, family members, and dating partners
  • The role of social media, cell phones, text messaging, and phone applications in relationships
  • Other risk factors for dating violence, such as substance use, risky sexual behavior, and poor coping skills.
Parent Hero

Parenting programs were also included in the Dating Matters comprehensive prevention model. CDC adapted the 6th grade parent program from an existing evidence-based program called Parents Matter! that promotes open communication and positive parenting with children about sexual health. The adapted Parents Matter! for Dating Matters includes new content that addresses healthy dating relationships and teen dating violence. The 7th grade program, Dating Matters for Parents, was designed by CDC to help parents establish positive communication with their kids to discuss dating relationships and healthy behaviors. The 8th grade program is Families for Safe Dates. This existing evidence-based program was selected based on evidence that it can prevent physical teen dating violence victimization. The program consists of guides for family conversations at-home about dating violence and healthy relationships.

i2i Hero

CDC designed i2i®: What R U Looking 4? as a component for the Dating Matters comprehensive prevention model. It was developed based on communications best practices as well as theoretical models of behavior change.  Formative research was conducted to:

  • Explore knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of the primary audience (11- to 14-year-olds) toward dating and relationships
  • Test messages and concepts with youth
  • Survey communities on capacity to implement a youth communications program
  • Analyze the preferences of youth-focused audiences
  • Review literature on communication campaigns geared towards similar audiences on sensitive topics and key influencers of high-risk, urban youth

The i2i content was developed through co-creation workshops with youth to ensure authenticity as a credible source. The research suggested that communication campaign materials, such as social media messages, developed by youth for youth may be perceived as more authentic and credible by young teens. Therefore, the i2i brand is designed by and for youth, to appeal directly to them in order to increase the chances that they would hear and listen to the messages.

Is Dating Matters Effective?

To find out if Dating Matters helps prevent teen dating violence, CDC compared youth who participated in Dating Matters to those who participated in another evidence-based prevention program (Safe Dates). Researchers randomly assigned schools to either implement Dating Matters or the comparison program, Safe Dates, to see if Dating Matters was more effective than what was available at the time (also known as a comparative randomized controlled trial). CDC surveyed students at multiple time points (also known as a longitudinal research design) starting in the fall of 6th grade before they participated in any prevention activities and again each spring and fall through 8th grade. The students were also surveyed once a year in high school to see if the effects lasted beyond the implementation of Dating Matters in middle school. CDC statistically examined differences between those who participated in the full Dating Matters model versus those who participated in the other evidence-based program. CDC also examined differences between two groups (or cohorts) of students who participated in each year of implementation during 6th-8th grade and between boys and girls. The effects described below show the average effects across groups of students and over time throughout middle school.

Effects in Middle School

Middle school outcomes

CDC found that during middle school, students in schools offering Dating Matters reported lower levels of teen dating violence perpetration and victimization and lower use of negative conflict resolution strategies than students in comparison schools. Teen dating violence outcomes were examined only for those who reported dating before or during middle school.

Middle schoolers who participated in Dating Matters also reported lower levels of:

  • Bullying perpetration
  • Cyberbullying perpetration and victimization (females only)
  • Physical violence perpetration
  • Weapon carrying
  • Alcohol and substance use
  • Delinquency
  • Sexual violence perpetration and sexual violence victimization (females only), and
  • Sexual harassment within and outside of dating relationships

Niolon, P.H., Vivolo-Kantor, A.M., Tracy, A., Latzman, N.E., Little, T.D., DeGue, S., Lang, K.M., Estefan, L.F., Ghazarian, S. R., McIntosh, W. L., Taylor, B., Johnson, L., Kuoh, H. Burton, T., Fortson, B., Mumford, E. A., Nelson, S., Joseph, H. Valle, L. A. & Tharp, A.T. (2019). An RCT of Dating Matters: Effects on Teen Dating Violence and Relationship Behaviorsexternal icon. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 57(1) 13-23.

Niolon, P.H. (2020). Introduction to a Special Section on the Effects of the Dating Matters Model on Secondary Outcomes: Results from a Comparative Effectiveness Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial. external iconPrevention Science, advance online publication.

Vivolo-Kantor, A. M., Niolon, P. H., Estefan, L. F., Tracy, A. J., Latzman, N., Little, T. D., DeGue, S., Lang, K. M., & Le, V. D. (2019). Middle School Effects of the Dating Matters® Comprehensive Approach on Peer Violence, Bullying, and Cyber-bullying: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trialexternal icon. Prevention Science, advance online publication.

Estefan, L. F., Vivolo-Kantor, A. M., Niolon, P. H., Tracy, A. J., Little, T. D., DeGue, S., Le, V. D., Latzman, N., Tharp, A. T., Lang, K. M., & McIntosh, W. L. (2020). Effects of the Dating Matters® Comprehensive Prevention Model on Delinquent Behaviors in Middle School Youth: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trialexternal icon. Prevention Science, advance online publication.

DeGue, S., Niolon, P.H., Estefan, L.F., Tracy, A.J., Le, V.D., Vivolo-Kantor, A.M., Little, T.D., Latzman, N.E., Tharp, A., Lang, K.M., & Taylor, B. (2020). Effects of Dating Matters® on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment Outcomes Among Middle School Youth: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trialexternal icon. Prevention Science, advance online publication.

Page last reviewed: November 30, 2020