Posts

What do young people think about relationships these days? That’s what Dr. Richard Weissbourd, director of the Making Caring Common Project at Harvard and his team wanted to know. They set out to identify young people’s challenges and hopes, and who influences the way they think about relationships. Much of what they found surprised them.

“Based on the responses from our research with more than 3000 young adults and high school students, it is clear that we as a society are failing to prepare young people for perhaps the most important thing they will do in life – learn how to love and develop deep caring, healthy romantic relationships,” says Weissbourd.

Additionally, they found that most adults appear to do shockingly little to prevent or effectively address prejudice against women and sexual harassment among young people. These problems can infect both romantic relationships and many other areas of life.

Weissbourd was troubled that at least one-third of respondents in their most recent survey said:

  • It is rare to see a woman treated in an inappropriately sexualized manner on television;

  • Society has reached a point that there is no more double standard against women; and

  • Too much attention is being given to the issue of sexual assault.

“Another finding I think parents will find most interesting – while parents are uptight about having the sex talk with their teen, 70 percent of 18 to 25-year-olds told us they wished they had received more information from their parents about how to have healthy relationships, including how to have a more mature relationship, how to deal with breakups, how to begin a relationship and how to avoid getting hurt in a relationship.”

On the positive side, it appears that teens and adults tend to greatly overestimate the size of the “hook-up culture.”

Weissbourd believes one of the biggest takeaways from this research is that a high percentage of young people want guidance about developing healthy relationships.

“I want parents to begin conversations with their teens about love,”Weissbourd says. “The media promotes so many misconceptions about what love looks like. We need to be teaching young people the difference between attraction, infatuation and love.”

Weissbourd believes we should help young people find answers to the following questions: Why can we be attracted to people who are unhealthy for us? How do you know when you are in love? Why and how can romantic relationships become deeply meaningful and gratifying? How can the nature of a romantic relationship and the nature of love itself change over a lifetime?

If you’re a parent, the report also encourages you to:

  • Teach your kids what it means to be respectful in a romantic relationship. Specifically identify what harassment looks like and what it means to be caring, and discuss the characteristics of a vibrant romantic relationship.

  • Step in and proactively address the qualities of a healthy relationship versus an unhealthy one. Intervene when you see inappropriate words or behavior, because silence can be misunderstood as permission to continue an unacceptable behavior.

  • Talk about what it means to be an ethical person. Teach young people the skills to maintain caring romantic relationships and how to treat each gender with dignity and respect. This also helps strengthen their ability to develop caring, responsible relationships at every stage of their lives and to grow into ethical adults, community members and citizens.

“For adults to hand over responsibility for educating young people about romantic love and sex to popular culture is a dumbfounding abdication of responsibility,” Weissbourd contends. “Lots of middle and high-schoolers experience trauma at their first and failed attempts at relationships. We need to make sure that kids know that breakups are not the end of the world.

“The huge question for all of us is this: Given the troubling downsides of our neglect of these issues and the large health, educational and ethical benefits of taking them on, how can we not push down this path?”

The results of this study encourage me personally, because this is what we have been promoting for two decades. It’s gratifying to see research repeatedly validate something we have taught teens in the schools and adults in this community for many years: Healthy relationships are key to success, in more ways than one.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on July 2, 2017.

When children first start school, parents usually have a pretty clear understanding of how to help their child have a successful year. But when those kids become teenagers, parents sometimes struggle with their role.

Parents usually play a much more active role with younger kids in making sure homework is completed, volunteering in the classroom, dealing with friendships, interacting with teachers and making sure their child gets enough rest. Too often, though, parents believe they can be less involved when a child moves from elementary to middle school.

While parents may want to change how they engage their tween when it comes to school success, research indicates this is not the time for parents to back off. The tween/teen years bring their own unique challenges, and teens aren’t sure how to talk with their parents or any other adult about many of them.

If you want to actively engage your teens and help them have a successful school year, these ideas can help you out.

  • Have a back-to-school discussion about expectations. Ask them what they want to accomplish this year and discuss ways you can help them reach their goals.

  • Establish healthy sleep patterns. When it comes to rest, plenty of research indicates that tweens/teens do not get enough sleep. On average, teens need 9.25 hours of sleep each night to function at their best. For various reasons though, many of them get significantly less than that. You can help with this by teaching them organizational skills. Have them look at their overall schedule of school and extracurricular activities, then develop a plan.

  • If you are still waking your teen for school, purchase an alarm clock – their phone doesn’t count. Make them responsible for getting themselves up in the morning.

  • Set a budget. Instead of constantly forking out money for this and that, allot a certain amount for school supplies, clothing, extracurricular activities, etc. and teach them how to manage this money. If they want to purchase things that aren’t included in the plan, resist the urge to figure it out for them. Instead, guide them in finding ways they can earn the extra cash.

  • Give them added responsibilities such as doing their own laundry, assisting with meal preparation and packing lunches.

  • Talk with them about the qualities of healthy relationships – friendships, dating relationships, relationships with teachers and school administrators. Discuss how to treat people with respect even if they aren’t respectful in return.

  • Avoid handling their problems for your teen. Talk with them about the issue, then help them problem-solve and determine a course of action. Facing a challenge head-on and making it to the other side is a huge confidence-builder.

  • Be clear about your expectations when it comes to bullying behavior. Research indicates parents are often the last to know when this is going on – whether your teen is the bully or the victim.

  • Talk about addiction. Discuss the opioid crisis and the impact of drugs and alcohol. This conversation makes it more likely for your teen to talk with you when they do encounter challenges.

  • Be very clear about your expectations and consequences for lack of follow-through, and avoid putting anything out there that you will not enforce. A great rule of thumb is this: less is more. Remind them that nothing they can do would make you love them any more or any less. Your teen needs to know you believe in them.

The teen years are incredibly challenging because everything in their world is changing. Their brain is growing, their body is changing, relationships are different, and they are establishing their independence while still being dependent in many ways. While they may be taller than their parents and seem smarter, especially when it comes to technology, it’s good to remember that 12 is just 12 and 15 is only 15.

Be present. Keep your eyes wide open. Let them make mistakes. Be there – not to lecture them – but to help them figure out what they could do differently in the future. Stay focused on your goal of launching someone who is capable of caring for themselves and being a productive person.

Even though they may begin to push you away, adolescents need their parents. Don’t be lulled into believing they needed you more when they were younger. The truth is, they need you now more than ever as they navigate the potentially-turbulent teen years.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 13, 2017.