Let’s talk about… healthy relationships!
The most common workshop requested through Planned Parenthood of Illinois’ sexual education team is on healthy relationships. Teachers, coaches, librarians, church officials, mentors, and other facilitators are all hearing interest from young people to talk about what makes a healthy relationship. Unfortunately, many adults assume this is something to discuss once teens start thinking about dating; however, discussions on healthy relationships, consent and respect should start at a young age.
Every day, people talk to kids about how to treat others. “Don’t hit.” “Keep your hands to yourself.” “Don’t call people names.” “Tell the truth.” This type of guidance helps young kids foster their early relationships and it’s carried through to later relationships when they are teens and adults.
In our workshops we talk about behaviors. What does being a good friend look like? What does consent sound like? What does respect feel like? Young people need to hear examples of healthy, unhealthy, and abusive behaviors. They need to understand why relationships are better and happier when they are healthy. They need to understand that as they get older, romantic relationships also involve being a good friend.
Simply saying “be nice” doesn’t give young people the tools they need to truly show kindness or respect. It is important to not only point out unhealthy behavior but also why it’s unhealthy followed by offering better alternatives. Guilting your friend into hanging out with you after they expressed being busy/tired is unhealthy. Suggesting other dates in the future to hang out is a healthier alternative.
Another important lesson we provide for young people is how to give genuine apologies. You do not apologize for someone’s feelings, you apologize for your actions: “I’m sorry I called you a bad name; it was mean.” Excuses do not belong in apologies and neither do “buts.”
Finally, we help young people understand and take responsibility for their owning their feelings. I often tell groups that if someone calls me a bad name, it is my choice how I will respond. That person doesn’t make me yell, cry, laugh it off, or ignore the comment. I chose my response. When people blame others for their feelings (you made me upset) they are only one step away from blaming the other person for their actions (you made me hit you). Unhealthy behaviors can easily become abusive behaviors for certain people.
It’s important to talk about healthy relationships with children and young adults so they are ready for healthy sexual relationships when the time is right. Want more resources or to schedule a workshop? www.plannedparenthood.org