Wood's Homes Blog

Part two: What's love got to do with it? Well, everything, actually.

September 19, 2017
By Dr. Angelique Jenney, Wood’s Homes Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health
Part two: What's love got to do with it? Well, everything, actually.

“We as a society are failing to prepare young people
for perhaps the most important thing they will do in life
– learn how to love and develop caring, healthy romantic relationships”

(Weissbourd, Anderson, Cashin, & McIntyre, 2017)

A recent long-term Harvard study, Making Caring Common, about teens and sexuality has some important messages in it for parents.  The main finding?  Parents are failing their young adults in one critical area; talking to them about how to have a healthy relationship.  Even more interesting, was the number of young adults who indicated they wanted to have these conversations with their parents.  Who knew?

The very well-laid out report provides several key findings.

Part two: What’s love got to do with it? Well, everything, actually.

Misogyny and sexual harassment appear to be pervasive among young people and certain forms of gender- based degradation may be increasing, yet a significant majority of parents do not appear to be talking to young people about it.

Eighty seven per cent of the young women surveyed in the Harvard study identified at least one form of sexual harassment, and a disturbing 76% indicated they “had never had a conversation with their parents about how to avoid sexually harassing others.” This makes the issue very poignant; how many of us are actively talking to our children about how NOT to harm others? Some of the more concerning findings were statements by both genders that indicated they were not aware that some behaviours (like catcalling) were harmful, or worse, they thought they were flattering or just a normal part of life.

We also know that the use of porn for this population has increased in recent years. Bands like Arcade Fire address this in their song Porno, and Death Cab for Cutie sing about how ‘some boys don’t know how to love’ illustrating both the confusion and the hunger to get it right.  If we aren’t talking to kids about where they are learning about sex and sexuality, then we are leaving it to the internet and popular culture to do it for us; an act the author’s boldly state, “is a dumbfounding abdication of responsibility” (p.6).

Here are two useful links for starting this very important conversation about pornography:

Many young people don’t see certain types of gender-based degradation and subordination as problems in our society.

As mentioned above, one of the most concerning trends is young people’s lack of awareness that gender inequity is still the source of much of the struggle to form and maintain healthy relationships. This is where the authors suggest stepping in and stepping up, to not just staying silent when they hear teens saying inappropriate things to each other or about other kids. They point out the importance of teaching our children to be ‘upstanders as opposed to bystanders’.  To engage young people in an important conversation about the ethics of good romantic relationships.  This is where you can talk about hot topics like cheating, slut-shaming, responding respectively to feelings that are unreturned.  If we don’t want our children to be hurt by others, we should also be teaching them how not to be hurtful.

Where can these conversations take place? Anywhere it works, is my advice.  Watching TV or movies together provides ample opportunities to discuss good and bad relationships, and it can depersonalize it when you are talking with your teen about characters instead of their actual friends.  I have also deliberately used song lyrics in these posts to illustrate what a great entry point music can be in helping us engage in conversations with teens about relationships and misogyny. There are some pretty misogynistic song lyrics out there, and although I never cease to point out their offensiveness when I hear them, I also ask pointed questions about the purpose of those lines and why artists might use them.  I also ask teens what they think the impact of those words are on both genders. There are lots of great discussions to be had when it comes to popular music.

Here is a short resource on being an upstander vs. bystander and, although it’s focused on bullying, the concepts are the same – prevent harm to others by standing up.

Be sure to stay tuned for PART THREE of our look at how parents can deal with the tough and important issue of sexual assault with their children.