Sharon: Love, love, love, love! Summer love, first love, true love, endless love. Love plays such an important part in how we think about romantic relationships and make decisions about intimacy, but we rarely, if ever, explore what that feeling really is or discuss how we know if it is real.
Chelsea: It’s so easy to dismiss teen infatuation, but stop to think about your first real crush—your body and mind endlessly preoccupied in daydreams, the intoxicating rush every time you saw that person, the giddy excitement when you finally talked or just made eye contact, the relentless obsessing about whether or not they really liked you. Your body floods with chemicals. Songs become full of meaning and importance--Ahhh, this must be what all those movies and songs are talking about. How easy is it to think that these overwhelming feelings are proof that you are in love? And really, who’s to say this isn’t love? Where do we draw the line between love, crush, lust, and infatuation?
Sharon: We start by first acknowledging the power and beauty of these feelings. But then we have to go further. We need to have conversations about the qualities that make a healthy, loving relationship, and give kids the information they need to sort out their feelings. Most teens say that their decision to have sex for the first time was based on “being in love.”
Chelsea: In our Sexual Health and Responsibility Curriculum, we give a homework assignment for the students to ask their parents, “When do you think it is OK for a person to have sex?” They write up what each parent says and then add a paragraph explaining what they believe.
Sharon: The most common response from parents is “when you’re in love.” That’s fine but it doesn’t go far enough.
Chelsea: From Cinderella to The Bachelor, from Twilight to One Direction, we are taught from a young age to base some of our most important life decisions on love--an all-encompassing, magical power that captivates our being, mind, body, and soul. But, who is exploring what love actually is? Who is helping teens navigate this new and exciting world of emotions?
Sharon: If we don’t do it, the media will, and does. In our absence, the media is defining love. And we see this influence in our discussions with students.
Chelsea: When students share this answer--when you’re in love—we always follow with: How do you know if you’re in love? How do you know if someone loves you? What does it mean to be in love?
Their answers tell us a lot about the culture we live in:
We have the students analyze different forms of popular media and look for messages about what constitutes “love” and a “good relationship.” I’m always excited by how much kids enjoy this part of the curriculum: teens are hungry to analyze and talk about the messages they are receiving every day.
Chelsea: These are some of our most dynamic conversations. Given the prevalence of relationship abuse among teens, it’s particularly important to help students see how our culture supports notions of love that can often lead to unhealthy and even abusive relationships.
Sharon: As parents and educators, we must add our voices to this conversation. We need to begin and sustain a dialogue about love and healthy relationships. “The Talk” is not nearly as simple as providing details on the biology of sexual intercourse. We must explore:
Sharon: That is such an important point. As a parent trying to survive the eye-rolling phase, you feel anxious, irritated, and ridiculous all at the same time. It’s exhausting to have to constantly remember that what you say matters, especially when you get absolutely no positive reinforcement.
Chelsea: And, of course, I’d report those totally embarrassing conversations to my friends, knowing that they were as eager to hear about these things as I was.
Sharon: We’re interested to hear what you think about this topic. Add your comments below and let us know what you think. Here are a few questions to get you started: