February 15th… the morning after the day every single single in this much married land is plagued with the thought “No date! I’m such a loser!” Of course from my perspective as an online advisor, the urge to merge is pretty much a year-round thing. So is the general cluelessness regarding what healthy relationships are all about. And it’s skewing younger all the time. Take these two oh so typical emails the likes of which I receive several times a week:
“Any guy I crush over does not feel the same about me. They always have a reason why I’m not ‘the one.’ I need help! What can I do to get guys to like me???” – 6th grader in love
And this one:
“I’m a 14 old guy and I’m still a single (?!) Many of my friends are in a relationship and I really wanted one of my own. How can I make myself comfortable when being around girls, especially the one I have a crush on?? It seems that I’m always nervous and I tend to force something that I’ll regret (because I’m always excited whenever I talk to the girl I like and I don’t want them to realize that I’m an annoying person and even a stalker)!!”
Tweens and teens are under way too much pressure to couple up. Put that on top of (or underlying) the stress they already feel to make the grade academically, athletically and in the friends department and it’s easy to see why the “solutions” 11-14 year olds come up with for their Boyfriend/Girlfriend challenges aren’t the most carefully thought out ideas.
None of us would dream of handing over the car keys to an unschooled young driver, because they’re unsafe at any speed. A danger to themselves and others. But what schooling are we giving our tweens and teens about the road trip into relationships? I know all about the take-away messages they get from friends and pop culture. But what values and skills are we parents giving them in terms of dating and relating?
We hear the word relationship and we think sex. Middle school kids hear it and think the same. And that’s a big part of the problem! The focus is all wrong. The result? A whole lot of ignorance about what really matters in a relationship – mutual respect, trust, honesty, open communication and shared values. So they swerve, skid, careen out of control, and crack up time and time again. Experience is a great teacher, but are they actually building any positive relationship skills? Based on the questions they email me, I’m guessing, not a whole bunch.
We need to change this. They need us to educate them because what they don’t know can and does hurt them. It hurts others too.
To learn more about the cosequences of fuzzy relationship smarts, check out my review of Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both by Laura Sessions Stepp.