Peer Influence Moderates Relationship Education Effects on Adolescents’ Romantic Ideals
Type of DegreeDissertation
Human Development and Family Studies
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The effectiveness of relationship education has been confirmed for youth in correcting faulty romantic beliefs. Some evaluation studies also support that relationship education plays a role for building and modifying romantic standards among adolescents. We know little about which factors, besides participants’ characteristics, influence program efficacy to what extent, and for whom. This current study drew upon assumptions from social ecological framework that proposes the importance of contextual influence conceptualized by peer influences on adolescents’ romantic ideals among a locally representative sample in terms of race of 1,616 adolescents from 111 high schools who registered in family and consumer science classes in a southern state. Multi-level models were conducted. This study confirmed the relationship education effects on adolescents’ romantic beliefs and standards. It suggests that the curriculum is valuable for adolescents in modifying their romantic beliefs and standards in the desired directions. Moreover, curriculum delivery in elective classes is a practical device for reaching a broad range of adolescents. In addition, this study tested different types of peer influences, at both individual- and class-levels, as a condition and mechanism of the linkage between relationship education and romantic ideals beyond the personal demographics (i.e., age, gender, and race) and dating experience (i.e., currently, past, and never dated). The results indicated that the individual deviant peer influence (DPI) seemed to be a stronger predictor than class DPI. In classes with higher mean levels of DPI among the members, greater inaccuracy was observed for one construct (“love is enough”). When adolescents attributed deviant behavior to more of their personal peer network, these adolescents endorsed lower standards for romantic relationships and relationship partners. However, the less inaccurate belief of “one and only” was observed among those students unexpectedly, which may be attributed to the diverse family structures. Both individual and class DPI did not moderate program efficacy independently, but relationship education was especially beneficial to those whose peer influence at both the individual- and class-level is most deviant simultaneously for two constructs (i.e., “love is enough” and intimacy/loyalty), while controlling for everything else. Females had slightly higher romantic relationship and partner standards. Those who were currently dating endorsed more inaccurate beliefs compared to their counterparts who had dated in the past or had never dated. Relationship education evaluation implications include focuses on considering peer influence when examining program efficacy, understanding that students with greatest needs benefitted most from treatment (i.e., both high individual and class DPI), having well-trained teachers who are good at facilitating a constructive classroom and delivering curriculum content, assessing romantic standards using both attitudinal and behavioral aspects to tap standards completely, refining the moderators to know their effects on program more accurately, and tailoring curriculum content specially to males. Future research directions should expand to consider more potential influence from individual, class, school, and family when testing the development of romantic ideals and relationship education effects.