*24% of 14 to 17 year-olds know at least one student who has been the victim of dating violence, yet 81% of parents are either unaware of it, or turn a blind eye. What’s more, 33% of teenagers report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt by their partner.
*72% of teens say boyfriend/girlfriend relationships usually begin at 14 or younger. That’s younger than things used to be, and of those in a tween relationship (11-14 year olds) 20% report that it is conducted with secrecy so that their parents don’t know.
*Of tweens who have been in a relationship, surveys indicate that 62% said they know friends who have been verbally abused and only half of those surveyed claim to know the warning signs of a bad/hurtful relationship.
* As adolescents become more autonomous from their parents, their romantic relationships increasingly become a key source of emotional support. In fact, one study found that, amongst Tenth graders, only close friends provide more support than romantic partners.
*Young people spend a great deal of time thinking about, talking about, and being in romantic relationships yet adults typically dismiss adolescent dating relationships as superficial. The quality of adolescent romantic relationships can have long lasting effects on self-esteem and shape personal values regarding romance, intimate relationships, and sexuality.
* Within the school environment, students may get sex education – but they rarely get relationship education. The crowded education curriculum, and the pressures placed on educators due to external examinations, make the delivery of comprehensive, effective relationship education very challenging.
I was thrilled then when the excellent team at Harper Collins chose to produce Teacher’s Notes with a particular focus on how Loveability could be used in the classroom for the subject Personal Development, Health and Physical Education to achieve the following learning outcomes:
•Stage 4 Personal Development, Health and Physical Education
•Strand 1: Self and Relationships
•Stage 5 Personal Development, Health and Physical Education
I’ve also been thrilled at the early uptake from our client schools for Enlighten Education’s new one hour “Loveability” in-school workshop. You may download the flyer for this here: Loveability – EE in-school program flyer
Let’s ensure our girls know how to navigate the often complex world of relationships and receive advice that is smart, warm, engaging and never judgemental.
As an educator who works with young women, during this the lead up to Valentine’s Day my Facebook News Feed is a virtual parade of teen girl sadness.
“Forever the Single Pringle.”
“The best thing about Valentine’s when you’re all alone? Knowing the chocolates will be half price come February 15.”
“My Valentine’s = a date with a tub of ice cream and a sad face. ”
In order to make their friends feel better, most of the comments following statuses like these are of the “Don’t worry, you’ll find your true love and live happily ever after” variety.
And whilst of course most of us do meet at least one love in our lifetime, not all of us will be with our partners forever. Many young women may go on to not only live without a partner, but to raise families alone.
In fact, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, almost fifteen per cent of all Australian families are one-parent families and almost two-thirds of these have dependents living with them. The vast majority of these families, eighty one per cent, are headed up by single mothers.
By the time girls become women, we are generally far less supportive of those who are not partnered up.
The terms we use to describe a single man make it sound as though he is having a ball doing the coolest things and having many a wild romance. He is a player, playboy, ladies’ man, lady-killer, womaniser, pick-up artist, bachelor, stud.
At best, a single woman might be referred to as a bachelorette, which implies that all she is doing is waiting for her husband to come along. Otherwise, she is labelled as the sad, lonely spinster.
And should she have children? Then she can expect to become the scapegoat for so many of society’s ills. Despite the fact that study after study show that a two-parent, financially stable home with stress and conflict is more destructive to children than a one-parent, financially stable home without stress and conflict, single mothers are frequently blamed for everything from the crime rate, to their own poverty.
As a single mother it might be hard not to take such criticisms personally. Yet my life, and my children’s lives, don’t fit the typical assumptions we make about single parent families at all – partly because I am fortunate enough to be financially independent and well educated.
Study after study also show that despite the rhetoric, it is poverty and instability that effects children – not family composition – making the Government’s decision to cut Newstart funding to single parents seem not just heartless, but ill informed.
Professor Katie Roiphe, in her eloquent “Defense of Single Motherhood” emphasises the necessity of a more balanced, compassionate approach when she concludes: “The real menace to… children is not single mothers, or unmarried or gay parents, but an economy that stokes an unconscionable divide between the rich and the not rich.”
One of my priorities in my latest book on relationships aimed at teen girls was, therefore, to teach our young women how to feel okay, with or without a partner. After all, the pressures placed on girls to meet their Prince Charming start very early.
In order to move beyond the myth that we are only whole if one of two, it is helpful, for example, to put the oppression of single women in a historical context.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a particular type of religious zeal took hold in Europe and led to tens of thousands of women being branded as witches. Approximately 100,000 supposed witches were put to death. Those accused of witchcraft were often poor, single women.
In the eighteenth century in England, women had very little choice but to marry. With limited educational opportunities available to them, and no pay equality, most women viewed marriage as the only stable path to financial security. Women also couldn’t own land, and all inheritance was passed down from father to son.
This made women vulnerable, because without a financially stable marriage they would be left destitute. And so the stigma around single women increased (globally, marriage is still considered a serious financial transaction, with dowries and bride-prices transacted as a way of allowing wealthy families to align themselves with other wealthy families).
For many women, the duty to marry well may also have produced great sadness. Once she was stuck in a loveless marriage, a woman often became isolated, her risk of domestic violence increased, her risk of death through child birth increased, and she had no option but to fulfill her conjugal duties. Bucking the trend was a big risk.
During Victorian times, women could be accused of being insane if they made too much of a fuss about their lot. In fact, if a woman expressed something that the male doctors of the day did not agree with, they could deem her words as hysterical ramblings. The term ‘hysterical’ derives from the Greek word meaning ‘womb’ (hence the term ‘hysterectomy’). A deep flaw within our wombs was considered to be able to make us insane. Women could also be sent to mental asylums for having an affair or being considered too sexually excitable. Single women were particularly at risk of being accused of these supposed misdeeds.
Although as single women today we are able to own property and are not at risk of being burnt alive, there is still a lot of work to do before society truly feels comfortable with, and is genuinely supportive of, those of us who are flying solo. Especially if we are mothering.
We still burn women who are seen as pushing boundaries — now we just choose to burn them with our words.
N.B – Enlighten launched its in-school one hour “Loveability”workshops for teen girls this week! The response so far from our clients has been phenomenal. To find more about this, visit our web site – www.enlighteneducation.com
NSW teachers can also join Nina and I at a special book launch for educators being hosted at Harper Collins. FREE copies of our book, and a fabulous teacher resource kit, will be distributed to particpants. There is no cost for this but those interested must RSVP:
Interestingly, the majority of the interviews we did seemed focused on determining at what age parents should allow their children to date. Case in point – this segment on channel 9’s Mornings:
The facts? Whether we like it or not, as I state in the interview above ( and teen Jordie confirms) young people are forming relationships at a younger and younger age and trying to ban these only contributes to secrecy. Further, young people spend an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking about relationships so we must ensure warm, wise, realistic and accessible advice is offered early.
Nina recently explained why setting blanket bans and stigmatising all relationships as being potentially dangerous is unhelpful:
“Instead of treating the sexuality of children as something to be either feared or controlled, we need to encourage open conversations about intimacy and relationships. It is also important not to demonise young people’s sexuality or interest in these topics, as this can create stigma, anxiety and shame.
It is deeply unhelpful (for example) to teach young people that the only reason why a girl might seek out intimacy or connection is due to low self esteem and a lack of self worth. This view totally disregards the desires and natural sexual urges of young women as well as the legitimate and positive experiences they may draw from relationships.”
So – how to handle this question in a positive, realistic way?
Again, I called on Nina for she answered this question for girls in the Q&A section of our book (with a little help from our go-to psychologist Jacqui Manning) I think they nailed it:
Q. My parents think I’m too young to start dating. How young is too young?
A. Knowing the right time to start dating isn’t so much about waiting till you turn a specific age. It’s about ‘taking the time to do it right’, according to psychologist Jacqui Manning. ‘Your early relationships can really set the scene for your love future, so having good experiences now will set you up with positive expectations from your partners forever.’
Ask your parents why they think you’re too young. Ask for their advice, and ask whether they’re comfortable to share their own experiences with you. Although some girls find it uncomfortable to talk about relationships with their parents, you can get some good tips by having an honest chat with them.
Relationships can be difficult to manage when you’re still busy learning about yourself, so don’t rush into it just because it’s what other people are doing, says Jacqui. ‘The important thing to remember is to not get swept up in another person’s idea of how the relationship should be, but to establish your own values and boundaries around what’s important to you — before you enter into a relationship. That way, you’ll have a better idea of when something doesn’t feel right.’
Before dating, think about the following questions: what kind of person do I like and what sort of qualities am I looking for in a person? What are my dating boundaries and deal breakers? What would a good relationship look and feel like to me? If, after you have put some effort into thinking about what you want, you feel self-assured enough to set boundaries in your relationships, then you may well be ready to get out there.
Nina and I have also developed a series of shareable images we have been using on Facebook and on Instagram to encourage girls into thinking more about their Relationship Deal Breakers and their Relationship Must-Haves. Feel free to download these and use them too!