As the parent of a tween or 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. But that doesn’t keep them from flirting, crushing and being crushed.
Most tweens and teens are naturally curious about sex and relationships (two very different endeavors which our culture has regrettably collapsed into one). They’re also under tremendous social pressure to couple up. There is 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 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
Helping teens understand their rights can empower them to make healthier choices when you aren’t around.