(WOMENSENEWS)–How do you stop a 30-year old from beating his wife?

Talk to him when he’s 12.

That’s the message on a banner currently draped across the San Francisco Giants’ ballpark. It is part of a new domestic violence prevention campaign “Coaching Boys into Men,” sponsored by the Family Violence Prevention Fund to give men the tools to teach boys that violence against women and girls is wrong.

Since 1994, the Family Violence Prevention Fund, in partnership with The Advertising Council, has sponsored public education campaigns to raise awareness of domestic violence.

The coaching campaign is one of an increasing number of programs aimed at middle and high school boys in the hopes of stopping domestic violence before it starts. U.S. Department of Justice statistics indicate that women between the ages of 16 to 24 are nearly three times more vulnerable to intimate partner violence (excluding intimate partner homicide) than women in other age groups. Nearly one in five female high school students report being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner, according to the American Medical Association.

“In high school, boys don’t often talk to their parents,” said Lynne Lee, director of public education for the Family Violence Prevention Fund. “We want coaches to use their role model positions to send a positive message.”

Boys and Young Men Must Unlearn Behaviors

Experts worry that possessive dating behavior is affecting younger age groups, and research has found that many teens believe that some dating violence is acceptable.

The slogan of the “Coaching Boys into Men” campaign is “Teach Early. Teach Often.” Organizers want to dispel media messages that teach boys that being a man means being tough and in control. Coaches can use their authority to talk about when aggressive behavior is appropriate, and when it’s not.

The campaign also involves posters, T-shirts and training materials. One of the most popular posters features a growth chart of boys from ages six to 18. These images are juxtaposed with messages boys receive: “make the decisions,” “take charge” and “win at all costs.” At the foot of the poster is the message: “Men’s violence against women is learned. It can be unlearned.”

Larry Cohen, executive director of the Prevention Institute, explained that with the increased awareness of the ways boys are being socialized “we’d like to see schools address this issue in their curriculum.” He added, “Institutions need to accept responsibility for preventing this behavior.”

Bullying Linked to Abuse

Programs for middle school and high school students are being used in many states, including Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas and California. These programs address issues that have often been overlooked in schools. A study by Prevention Fund researcher Dean Peacock, indicates that sometimes abusive behavior is dismissed or handled as though it were acceptable roughhousing. For example, girls may be told that it is a sign of affection if someone kicks or insults them.

“It’s a relevant issue for the schools,” said Peacock. “Many schools that allow bullying are also likely to overlook other problems. Educators have the power to affect the social environments in their classroom.”

In Marin County, California, a program addressing domestic violence prevention for young people has been in place since 2000. Last year, Steve Marks, Transforming Communities Marin Coordinator, talked to 3,000 young adults. Marks also speaks with teachers and parents.

“Boys have gotten the message that they’re superior and that they have to work to maintain that superiority,” said Marks. “Many boys think that a boy has to be tough–that he has to control a girl. That bullying can lead to abuse.”

The program examines sexist attitudes including discussions of gender stereotypes. Peacock said that programs that fail to do this may have a minimal effect.

“They know that they shouldn’t use the ‘N’ words but they are shocked when I say they shouldn’t use the ‘B’ word,” said Marks. “It gets their attention. I can see the wheels turning.”

Plays and films addressing relationship violence are also making the rounds in many school districts. “The Yellow Dress” and “Remote Control,” two plays sponsored by Deana’s Fund, a philanthropy project that produces educational anti-violence art-based programs, were seen by more than 80,000 middle and high school students last year. Both plays teach young people how to recognize early signs of abuse, help victims, understand the cycle of abuse and find community resources.

“We’re training a generation of kids to make an impact,” said Kate Kain, associate director of the Marin Abused Women’s Services. “We must address the root causes of domestic violence directly.”

Kimberly Wilmot Voss has been a journalist for the past decade. She is a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

For more information:

Family Violence Prevention Fund:

Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse: