Healthy relationship lessons

Earlier in the year, a teen violence prevention program at the BosÂ-ton Public Health Commission released its second annual Top 10 lists of healthy and unhealthy relaÂ-tionship songs. TrainÂ's song "If ItÂ's Love" topped the list of healthy reÂ-lationship songs, while music vetÂ-eran Usher had the top two songs on the unhealthy list - "Lil Freak" and "Hot Tottie."

The songs were scored by the 25 peer leaders in the "Start Strong" initiative. The teens, who range in age from 15 to 18 years old, atÂ-tended a seven-week "Healthy Relationship Institute" where they were trained in teen dating vioÂ-lence prevention and healthy relaÂ-tionship promotion.

Dorchester and Roxbury, the programÂ's target "micro-neighborhoods," make up only 25% of BostonÂ's population, yet account for 38% of the cityÂ's reported intimate partner violence.

The youth also learned to look at media critically, breaking it down to better understand the healthy or unhealthy relationship messages it may contain, such as power, conÂ-trol, equality, and gender roles.

Using the Sound Relationships Nutritional Label it started almost two years ago, "Start Strong" peer leaders analyzed songs from BillÂ-boardÂ's "Hot 100" chart, a record of the top 100 songs purchased, played on the radio, and streamed online across all music genres. AlÂ-though the lyrics on Katy PerryÂ's "Teenage Dream" include themes about sex, it was in the context of a healthy relationship, said particiÂ-pants in "Start Strong."

"We donÂ't see sex as an unhealthy part of a reÂ-lationship, especially if it also includes caring, supÂ-port, and love," said "Start Strong" teen Desire PegueÂ-ro, 16, Roxbury.

"Teens were particuÂ-larly bothered by UsherÂ's lyrics for Â'Hot TottieÂ'," says Casey Corcoran, direcÂ-tor of the "Start Strong" initiative, now in its secÂ-ond year. "In it, Usher describes a relationÂ-ship world view where it isnÂ't cheating if nobody knows and brags about his partner not wanting him to use a condom. These kinds of attitudes arenÂ't just unhealthy, theyÂ're dangerous."

Eminem, who returned to the musical spotlight in 2010 with "Love the Way You Lie," came in at number three on the unhealthy relationship songs list.

"We had a hard time scoring the song Â'Love the Way You LieÂ'," Peguero says. "While the song does accurately portray an abusive relaÂ-tionship, it doesnÂ't do enough to condemn that type of relationship."

Since its release last year, the Sound Relationship tool has been widely used in assessing the relaÂ-tionship ingredients of songs. It has been included in high school textbooks and student at an Idaho high school used it to screen songs to be played at their school dance.

"As long as new music is being released, we have a responsibilÂ-ity to help teens make informed choices about their media diet," says Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the ComÂ-missionÂ's executive