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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

The Teen Relationship Bill of Rights

March 6, 2009

You have the right to have fun

You have the right to have fun

As the parent of a young teen you may believe that your son or daughter is years away from a “relationship.” You might also believe that acai juice has the power to reverse global warming and fix the economy. Face it, most middle schoolers are totally focused on the Boyfriend/Girlfriend Zone. What do you think all that IMing and texting is about?! I’m not suggesting that they’re ready to create and maintain healthy romantic relationships. Geez no! Many of them are still sorely challenged in the friendship department. Most tweens and teens are naturally curious about sex and relationships (two very different endeavors which our culture has regrettably collapsed into one).  And they’re under tremendous social pressure to couple up. There’s pressure from peers, from the media and well, yes, even from some parents who not so secretly get off on the reflected glory of their 7th grader’s popularity with the opposite sex. So they’re going to experiment with relationships – that’s a good thing and it’s how they learn. But there’s no reason they need to stumble through the Bf/Gf Zone totally clueless.  We should provide them with some ground rules (and I’m not necessarily talking about purity pledges).

To help you and your son/daughter have these conversations (yes, there needs to be more than one) I’ve created a Relationship Bill of Rights. Please don’t mothball this just because your kid isn’t “dating” yet. These rights apply not only to the Bf/Gf Zone, but to friendships too. Kids need to be able to stand up for themselves in all relationships. Parents need to model that assertiveness in their own lives as well.

The Relationship Bill of Rights

  1. It’s your right to have feelings for anyone you choose. Your friends may have opinions worth listening to, but who you’re friends with or who you love is your choice.
  2. You have the right to express your feelings or to keep them to yourself. Just because you have feelings for someone doesn’t mean you have to tell anyone or do anything about it.
  3. You have the right to feel safe. It’s important to feel physically and emotionally safe at all times when you’re with another person. If you don’t, speak up and/or get out of the situation ASAP.
  4. You have the right to be treated with respect. You deserve the chance to express your thoughts and feelings without fear. You have the right to be listened to by the other person. And what you have to say should be respected.
  5. You have the right to your own time (without being guilt-tripped). You can spend all the time you like away from the other person—whether that’s to hang out with other friends, be with family, or do something on your own.
  6. You have the right to say no. It’s your body and no one should pressure you when it comes to getting physical. It’s also your right to say no to alcohol or drugs. If the other person ignores your “no” then they’re disrespecting you. (See #4)
  7. You have the right to open, honest communication, If something’s going on in the relationship, you and the other person need to talk about it.
  8. You have the right to end a relationship. It doesn’t matter what your reasons are. If you want out, get out. You don’t have to justify or explain how you feel to anyone.

If you think of any other relationship rights, please let me know. I’ll expand the document and re-post it!

Filed under: Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , — Annie @ 9:35 am
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12 Comments »

  1. I’d love to hear what young teens have thought of this “relationship bill of rights”. It feels clear and logical from an adult perspective, but does it make sense to middle-schoolers? Which items might they find the most challenging to implement? What might they flat-out disagree with? Any thoughts?

    Comment by Fayette — March 12, 2009 @ 11:04 am

  2. I’ve only presented my Relationship Bill of Rights to one group of 8th graders during a 90 minute “Relationship Smarts” workshop I led a couple of months ago. While the 120 kids weren’t very forthcoming at that time with any personal reaction to these “rights” they were extremely attentive while I went over each point. I could tell they were taking it all in and probably doing a mental match-up inside their head to figure out if and when they had given away any of their rights. In my work with tweens and teens it’s usually a matter of “planting seeds” … hopefully they take away something important to think about and decide for themselves how to incorporate the new perspective. I especially appreciate when they write back to me and let me know that they’ve gotten it!

    Have a look: http://www.anniefox.com/teens/letters_list.php?CATEGORIES=BF/GF_Relationships

    Comment by Annie — March 12, 2009 @ 11:21 am

  3. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by annie_fox: @LindaCulbreth #Teen girls (and guys) need to know the #Relationship Bill of Rights http://bit.ly/yyQGu

    Trackback by uberVU - social comments — October 20, 2009 @ 12:24 am

  4. I think the difficult thing is that a lot of these rights are rights that people have, but if you actually demand these rights you’ll be dumped pretty fast. In middle school, I remember wanting NOT to be sexually active was often a deal-breaker in relationships. Lots of people (mostly girls) got dumped for not doing this or that. I think it’s important on top of this bill of rights to try to lessen the pressure on teens to date, explaining to them that MOST people their age many not be mature enough to give them the respect they deserve, but that they have the right not to settle. Just because it’s hard to find a partner who will respect all of these rights doesn’t mean they don’t deserve one or should stop looking. The fact that you’re \cool\ if you have a relationship and \uncool\ if you don’t also is an issue.

    I’ve noticed a lot of parents also tell their kids that they have the right to love who they love, yet assume in their heads that the kid will love someone of the opposite sex, someone of the same race, etc. I think it’s important for parents presenting this list to examine their own internalized prejudices as well. It hurts a lot and really damages trust when you’re a teen and your parent says \we’ll love you no matter what\ and then doesn’t really follow through on that.

    Some people think you should be able to say \no\ but that after a certain point sex just has to happen. Or that \well no you don’t HAVE to but if you don’t I’ll be concerned there’s something wrong with you.\ Or something. I think it’s important that parents make sure they believe in these things before handing it off to their teens.

    I think the urge to live vicariously through a child’s popularity can be dangerous and should also be examined. It can put undue pressure on a kid to \make the boys want her\ or \be a hit with the ladies\ even if the child is not interested in being the player/school hottie/what-have-you or is even gay or asexual.

    Also these rules talk about dodging pressure from friends but what about from bullies? Also, what about from parents? Those both seem important to me.

    It’s also important to teach both boys and girls about sexual harassment at this age because it really flares up in middle school.

    Lastly, while you were saying purity pledges might not make sense, it’s important to make sure you are honest about your expectations with your child. When do YOU think it’s appropriate for people to think about sex? What kind of relationship do you think it’s safe in and WHY? If expectations aren’t clear some kids will either just do things without thinking about their own feelings OR be so terrified that they feel guilty for even thinking about sex ever. It’s also important to tell (specifically girls) that they have a right to say “no” to one-sided favors. A lot of times at my middle school kids weren’t having “sex.” Girls were giving favors to prove themselves to guys. That sounds sick, but it is a reality in a lot of places. It’s important to teach girls that giving oral sex isn’t just a less scary alternative to having sex to keep your boyfriend, but that HAVING to do a sexual favor (especially one that is one-sided) to keep a boyfriend or to stay “ahead” of other romantic options the boy has isn’t okay. Girls and boys should both learn that they should not be objectified and have a right to be treated with respect. I guess an expanded version of what’s already there.

    Comment by Z — September 10, 2010 @ 12:05 pm

  5. I really like the simplicity of this. And it actually pertains to all ages. I have daughters in middle and high school so we spend a lot of time on the issues of dating and friend relationships. I think girls are more difficult than boys because they are so much more emotional. All relationships have emotional attachments but the most important thing (as hard as it may be) is to remove the emotional baggage. #8 does this simply by saying, “It doesn’t matter what your reasons are. If you want out, get out.” Great advice!

    Comment by Jeff — June 4, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

  6. […] Relationship Bill of Rights – Annie Fox posted this list on her blog, and after a weekend with my 13-year-old niece, I found it a nice, simple reminder of […]

    Pingback by 3 Things That Made Me Think, Today « Mimi's Space — July 7, 2011 @ 8:30 pm

  7. Hi Annie,

    Wonderful words of wisdom for tweens, teens and adults too. Your guidelines here are extremely useful in dealing with some most difficult or embarrassing moments or situations. You should print this up on little pocket sized cards and send them out. They would be welcome in so many places. How many school counselors would like a stack of cards with your “Relationship Bill of Rights”!

    Comment by Columbia Jones — October 18, 2011 @ 5:12 am

  8. Hello, Columbia.

    Thanks for your interest in my Relationship Bill of Rights. Feel free to pass it on to anyone who could use a reminder (It’s definitely not just for teens!)

    In friendship,
    Annie

    Comment by Annie — October 18, 2011 @ 8:07 am

  9. Excellent list of rights for teens in a relationship. While we’d all like to pretend they’re never going to start one, it’s impossible to keep them from doing so.

    Comment by alicia keys — January 9, 2012 @ 7:35 pm

  10. I think a lot of people discount the understanding of children in middle school. I could have easily understood this when I was twelve. My parents were very good about this kind of discussion. My mother certainly never had the idea that teens shouldn’t date in high school; she expected it. Sex should be separate in people’s minds from relationships, particularly at a young age. I chose to wait until I was in college to select (and I purposely use that word) a lover. I’ve always been glad I did.

    Comment by Debora Hill — January 27, 2012 @ 8:51 pm

  11. I’m glad you approve of the list, Alicia. it might be a good idea not only to share this with your son/daughter, but also to ask them what (if anything) they might add to the list. I’m sure there are important items I’ve left out!

    Comment by Annie — January 27, 2012 @ 9:44 pm

  12. I totally agree, Debora. Middle school students easily understand these concepts. Assuming they aren’t capable of understanding this stuff and/or aren’t “ready” to make use of it, robs them of some serious education… which they desperately need! Even if a boy/girl isn’t “dating,” the Relationship Bill of Rights is applicable to friendships too!

    Comment by Annie — January 27, 2012 @ 9:47 pm

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