Each week parenting expert Annie Fox will share her wit and wisdom for teaching kids to be good people and strong learners.
In schools, popularity is the name of the game, and students are constantly jockeying for position in the Boyfriend/Girlfriend Zone. This can impact the school climate—the feel, atmosphere, tone, ideology, or milieu of a school—in a negative way and fill it with feelings of competition and jealousy.
On Valentine’s Day, status anxiety can reach new heights and wreak havoc on a school atmosphere that, as we all know, is supposed to be conducive to learning.
We can’t forget that the teen brain is still under construction in the areas of planning ahead, impulse control, and the ability to predict the outcome of one’s choices. Because their brain often works against relationship building, it’s especially important for students to be aware of the fact that healthy relationships (the only kind worth having) are based on mutual respect. Given that February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, this is an especially important time to talk to your child or students about healthy relationships.
When it comes to the how-to of healthy relationships, most teens are ignorant. Not their fault! Relationship literacy isn’t typically taught at home or at school, though it should be. Without the education they need from emotionally intelligent adults, teens turn to their equally clueless peers for advice. Together, they can create a school climate resembling a battlefield strewn with broken hearts and wreckage from vengeful acts. With all that social garbage, they can’t learn effectively, nor can teachers teach.
Our kids need to talk to us about relationships so they can begin to get some mastery over what’s already occupying so much of their mental real estate. To help springboard these conversations, I’ve created a Relationship Bill of Rights. It’s designed to help parents and teachers help the young people in our lives become more aware of the inherent rights and responsibilities that come with dating.
NOTE: Please don’t mothball this because your son or daughter isn’t yet “dating” in the traditional sense. Many kids as young as sixth grade form what they call “dating” relationships. They may not be going places together, as a couple, but that doesn’t mean the dynamic doesn’t have real emotions or the potential for intense conflict and suffering.
The Relationship Bill of Rights and Responsibilities:
1. You have the right to love whomever you choose. Your family and friends care about you. For that reason you have a responsibility to listen carefully to their opinions, but who you love is a personal choice.
2. You have the right to be safe at all times. If your boyfriend/girlfriend makes you feel uncomfortable, speak up, call a friend, and/or get out of the situation ASAP. If someone you care about is in an unsafe relationship, you have the responsibility to express how you feel and support their getting out.
3. You have the right to be treated with respect. You deserve to express yourself without fear of being teased or invalidated. You have the responsibility to treat others with respect before, during, and after a relationship.
4. You have the right to your own time. You can hang out with other friends, be with your family, or do something on your own. You have the responsibility to deal (in healthy ways) with any jealousy that comes up when you are not with your boyfriend/girlfriend.
5. You have the right to say no. No one has the right to touch you without your permission. No one has the right to pressure you when it comes to sexual activity or the use of drugs or alcohol. If your boyfriend/girlfriend ignores your “no,” then s/he is not treating you with respect. (See #3)
6. You have the responsibility to be trustworthy. Cheating is never OK.
7. You have the right to end a relationship for whatever reason. If you are confused or uncertain about your feelings, you have the responsibility to reach out to a trusted person and get help sorting things out.
8. You have the responsibility to be kind. You never have the right to be rude or cruel.
Most teens have never thought about a Relationship Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. This gives them something to think about.
ANNIE FOX, M.Ed. is the award-winning author of eight books. An online advisor to teens and parents, she is also a respected character educator. Annie’s award-winning books include: Teaching Kids to Be Good People and the groundbreaking Middle School Confidential™ book and app series. Learn more about Annie at her website.