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YOUNG LOVE: Preparing Our Kids for Healthy and Happy Relationships

Donna Tetreault

The romanticizing of idealized love may work well in Shakespeare, but in real life, romantic relationships don't always provide the sunniest of seasons. Adults struggle with healthy romantic relationships as do young adults and teens. How can we change this? How can we start educating our children at an earlier age? What does a healthy relationship look like? This Valentine's Day is a great time to begin this conversation.

Making Caring Common's report, The Talk: How Adults Can Promote Young People's Healthy Relationships and Prevent Misogyny and Sexual Harassment, provides important research and suggestions to get a dialogue going that can prove life altering for our children.

According to Joe McIntyre, Research Advisor for Making Caring Common, 70% the 18 to 25-year-olds surveyed for the report wished they had heard more from their parents on how to begin relationships, how to have more mature relationships, how to deal with breakups, or how to avoid being hurt. McIntyre explains, "We had a lot of students telling us they wish they had heard this from their parents. It can be hard to believe at times because young people often don't want to have these conversations in the moment, but what we are hearing later on is that they wished they had had these conversations." McIntyre adds that, according to the report, the conversations that parents did have with their kids were influential.

Another key finding in the report, says McIntyre, is that, "parents are concerned about the wrong aspect of young relationships, the so-called 'hookup culture.' Our evidence says that most young people are not engaging in casual hookups. They much more prefer to be in the context of a relationship."

The following are some of MCC's recommendations for having these important conversations with young people:

Guide young people in identifying healthy and unhealthy relationships:

Adults can ask questions that help teens identify the markers of healthy and unhealthy relationships. One important marker is whether a romantic relationship makes both partners more respectful, compassionate, generous, and hopeful.

McIntyre says, "It can be helpful to identify aspects of relationships depicted in the media that are inconsistent with the values that parents and teachers hold."

Talk about what it means to be an ethical person:

Helping young people develop the skills to maintain caring romantic relationships and treat those of different genders with dignity and respect 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.

It's never too early to start "the talk":

Help prepare kids in advance, says McIntyre, "so it doesn't feel like it's something you are springing on them, but certainly at the point when kids are starting to think about sexual and romantic relationships, it's really important that these discussions be had in a really open and clear way."

Tailor the conversation to the age of the child. For example, 'your body is your own, you need to be respectful of other people's bodies as well.' And, 'Girls should be respected. Boys should be respected too.'

Step in:

When parents and other adults witness degrading, sexualized words or behavior, it's imperative that they intervene. Silence can be understood as permission. Adults need to talk much more with each other and with school counselors and other experts about what types of interventions are likely to be effective and try out various approaches.

For more tips and resources, read the full report.