PSHE: No more violence

Written by: Karen Sullivan | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Continuing her focus on relationship violence, Karen Sullivan looks at how we can begin to tackle these issues in the PSHE classroom and offers some ideas and resources

Over my past few articles, we have looked at the shocking prevalence of violence and abuse within adolescent relationships, with both young men and women made victims.

The statistics are alarming, but also provide a wake-up call for educators and, indeed, parents. While domestic abuse is never acceptable, the fact that it is taking place so regularly within our school population is real cause for concern, and indicates a considerable and growing problem for the future.

It is time to bring this into the classroom – the curriculum – and teach young people what a healthy relationship entails, what constitutes an unhealthy one, and the meaning of respect. As a starting point, get the class involved in a discussion and note down their ideas on how they deserve to be treated in a relationship, the features of a great one: feeling safe, trust, ability to disagree, encouraging and supporting.

Make the list as long as possible, and then ask them to come up with signs of an unhealthy relationship. In essence, this will be the opposite of what has been noted down earlier, but ask for their input. Some of what you hear may be eye-opening.

Ask them why people are abusive in a relationship – anger issues, insecurity, frustration, jealousy, stress, etc. Get these listed, and then explain that none of these is actually a cause of abuse. Everyone can experience these emotions, become stressed for example, but in no way does it justify becoming abusive.

In previous articles I discussed how many young people blame themselves (at least in part) when they are victims of violence or other forms of abuse, or struggle to determine if it is a reflection of love. This is wrong and is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed.

Remind them of what constitutes abuse (see the first article in this series – PSHE: Relationship violence, SecEd, September 2016) and the various and insidious manifestations of it, including things that may not be obvious, like sharing rumours and photos, shaming via social media or other networking sites, being checked up on by text (Tackling teenage relationship abuse, SecEd, November 2016), and, of course, undermining self-confidence, alienating friends and family, and crossing boundaries.

Young people need to be aware that it is natural to want to share, to become close and even intimate in a relationship, but that giving too much personal information can be dangerous. They need to know key and important things about someone before giving them their trust.

For example, how does he/she treat her friends? How does he/she respond to differences of opinion or behave in an argument? How does he/she express anger? Looking out for these things at the onset is critical, and something that should be considered by every young person, regardless of how much in love or lust they think they are.

Fundamental to this is self-respect. Young people need to know that they deserve respect; they deserve healthy relationships. Many adolescents are the product of broken homes, homes where violence is a way of life; many have been victims or witnesses.

It is very natural for young people who have been abused on any level by the people who are supposed to love and protect them to come to the conclusion that it is normal. In fact, over time, and with increased exposure to violence in the media, to pornography, many young people lose sight of what is normal. And at a time of development when even the most minute exchanges can affect the foundations of emotional health and wellbeing, this can feed the flames of this insidious problem.

Young people need to be encouraged to feel good about themselves, to feel confident and strong enough to say: you’ve crossed my personal boundary and I do not want to continue. They need to know where to go to get help; they need to know that there is no shame in being a victim, and that there is help – within the school gates, and outside it.

As a starting point, change your school rules to reflect a zero-tolerance approach to abuse of any nature, and list everything that this includes. Encourage them to come forward. Create a leaflet and send it home to parents so that they too understand what constitutes abuse and make a stand to stop it.

Make it a feature of PSHE to have a bi-weekly discussion about the types of abuse that young people are witnessing among their peers and as a group try to come up with some solutions.

With this type of support, students will learn that they are not alone, that they are valuable, that they have options. They may recognise unhealthy elements of their own relationships that may not have been obvious before; they may be able to help a friend. Getting things into the open and creating a forum in which they feel they have a voice, are listened to and can find solutions, is fundamental to the long-term resolution of this issue.

One of the most important elements of fighting violence and abuse is to ensure that young people are secure, that they feel good about themselves, that they trust their decision-making and are not afraid to say no, to put a stop to situations that threaten them on any level. In my next and final column on this subject, we’ll discuss how to get that started.

  • Karen Sullivan is a best-selling author, psychologist and childcare expert. Email To read her previous articles for SecEd, including in this series, go to


  • The Key to a Great Relationship, Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs (a useful guide to helping young people look at themselves and their own interactions):
  • A Thin Line: features resources about different forms of online and other abuse:
  • Teenage Relationship Abuse, a resource produced by Gloucester County Council discussing teen relationship abuse and what can be done (with some excellent workshop ideas):
  • Teenage Relationship Abuse: A teacher’s guide to violence and abuse in teenage relationships, Home Office:
  • Starting in school: To end domestic violence, Refuge:
  • Expect Respect: A toolkit for addressing teenage relationship abuse in key stage 3, 4, and 5, Home Office:
  • Help and support for victims of relationship abuse:
  • The Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 and


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