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Teaching Your Sons And Daughters About Healthy Relationships

Posted: March 27, 2015

Why is it so tough for us to talk about relationships to our children? Why is the word ‘sexuality’ a taboo? Should it be so?

In India, as is with many other countries, much of our culture is shaped by the media. Movies, television, magazines are all prime sources of information and misinformation. Among the most popular culture media, there is a recurring underlying theme – love and relationships.

From ‘how to be single’ to ‘how to keep your man happy in bed’, we are constantly being told how to live our lives and what we ought to do to be in or out of relationships, and how to keep our partners happy. Many at times, these articles use tactics that promote jealousy, possessiveness, and/or use of sexuality as a weapon.

Movies like Kaho Na Pyaar Hai, Murder 2 and Dabangg sexualize and glorify aggression, stalking, force and harassment. We have never been taught that a ‘no’ actually means no! In many of our movies, for example, when a woman says no or tries to physically move away from the male actor’s grip, he refuses to acknowledge her. We are shown and subconsciously taught that if your partner gets jealous when you talk to someone else, (especially, your partner’s friends) then s/he likes you. Of course, in the movies everybody knows that the hero is a ‘good guy’, but in real life that distinction is not so easy to make.

Characteristics of an unhealthy relationship

So, it is no surprise then that today young girls and boys take jealousy, possessiveness and aggression as forms of affection. This combined with the fact that many families do not discuss relationships openly makes it difficult for young boys and girls (and even some adults) to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships.

Some characteristics of an unhealthy relationship are listed here.

  1. One partner being controlling
  2. One partner telling or always blaming the other partner
  3. Verbal, physical or emotional abuse/blackmail
  4. Restricting or controlling who their partner meets and talks to
  5. Being excessively possessive

Many adults take teenage relationships very lightly owing to the fact that teenage relationships seldom last very long. However, it is important to note that while these relationships may not last, the impact that these relationships have on your children last forever. Their experiences in teenage relationships go on to shape their views and perceptions of future relationships, making it incredibly important that parents talk to their children about what a healthy relationship looks like.

Characteristics of a healthy relationship

A healthy relationship is built on trust, mutual respect, effective communication and of course, consent. There are no elements of harassment, jealously, possessiveness or mind games in healthy relationships. To put it simply, in a healthy relationship both partners are equal and have an equal say in the decisions that affect them both. Decisions on things like – who you can to talk to, what to wear, who pays for the food, where you go and when to get back. These may seem very trivial, but these seemingly mundane decisions and conversations, often pave the way for bigger and more impacting decisions like sexual activity and consent.

Healthy relationships need to be taught from a very early age. The sooner individuals learn to respect other people’s decisions, the better partners and individuals they will make in the future. It is important that girls are taught to be assertive and independent, and boys are taught to respect girls and/or women and their decisions. It is not always the case that men dominate or harm women, but unfortunately, due to the current societal structure, men tend to harm or pressurize women (in terms of sex or sexual activity) more than women pressurize men, because men can get away with it.

The ‘S’ word

While parents may not want to acknowledge the fact that their children are engaging in sexual activity, it is a reality in today’s world. Individuals from around the age of 15 onwards experiment with sex. They will do so with or without your knowledge. This is not to say that every girl or boy who is 15 or above is having sex, but it is to say that there is a high likelihood that your child is engaging in some form of sexual activity, be it kissing, touching or sex. If this comes to you as a surprise, maybe now is a good time to educate yourself and talk to your children about safe sex, consent, saying ‘no’ and teaching them to respect their’s and their partner’s decision. It’s important to realize that educating your children about sex doesn’t mean that you are advocating sexual activity, it just means that you are opening up a dialogue with your children enabling them to be better and smarter decision makers.

Talking to your children about healthy relationships may be awkward at first, but they need not be. If parents engage actively in their children’s lives, and relationships, sex, academics and friends are all discussed with equal importance, your children will trust you more and be better informed if and when, they commit to a relationship and/or sexual activity.

It is important to realize that at some point in your child’s life there might be a partner. Whether the partner comes in high school or college or after marriage, a happy relationship is the end goal and for that, it’s important that both partners are equal in the relationship and they both respect each other.

Some simple ways of promoting conversations around healthy relationships are listed below.

  1. Do your research!
  2. Talk to your children often, make it a routine – talk openly and without judgment
  3. Listen to what your children have to say
  4. Trust them, but also forgive them if the trust is broken
  5. Be prepared for awkward and straightforward questions
  6. Try to be honest with your children and don’t try to scare them

Image of a worried daughter and mother via Shutterstock

A feminist by choice and writer by passion, Sanah is bold, opinionated and exuberant. She

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