The Tes reports that teenagers are desperate for advice on relationship education – we need to knock down myths such as the BFF
It’s an interesting, dare I say, even exciting (steady on!) time for sex and relationship education (SRE) in Britain. Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism movement, has been using her influence as one of Britain’s most prolific campaigners to get rape and consent top of the agenda. The Coalition for Men and Boys, with former Loaded editor-turned-pornography-expert Martin Daubney at the helm, is devising ways to broach the topic of the impact of the digital age on ideas about sexual norms with teenagers in a non-judgmental fashion. Meanwhile, the LGBT+ community is pushing for and, in some schools, starting to achieve, more visibility within the curriculum.
All of the above represents excellent and necessary progress. The leaps and bounds we are making in the “S” arena of SRE have been shown to correlate to a reduction in teenage pregnancy. The education sector should be applauded for, during a time of unprecedented financial and resource-based difficulties, actively looking for innovative ways to tackle the problems of, for example, sexual assaults in school grounds and on college campuses, as well as higher instances of mental health issues and suicide amongst LGBT+ pupils.
However, the research I conducted throughout the most recent academic year showed that it’s the “R” in SRE for which children and teenagers would like, and aren’t necessarily getting, more information. Friendships are a cornerstone of wellbeing at all stages of life, but this is never more true than when we are at school.
One role teachers could play in minimising any potential damage as a result of this process is to manage pupil expectations. This is not to diminish the closeness young people feel with their peers, since most of us remember the friendships we had at school as being the most powerful and significant we ever experienced, but it is well-established in expert thinking that the vast majority of friendships have a shelf life. Most friendships are destined to end, but, crucially, that doesn’t in any way diminish their value or significance during their duration.
One of the most toxic myths, in my experience, when it comes to friendship is the notion of the BFF (“best friend forever”). We are taught, by insidious, romanticised, pop-culture type ideas, that friendships aren’t “real” unless they last a lifetime. And yet, even as an adult, our psychological development happens in cycles of approximately seven years. This means we are now completely different in terms of our values, perspective and beliefs than we were seven years ago, and, as such, our relationships might no longer be fit for purpose (hence the infamous “seven-year itch” in marriages).
This summer, I’m going to take some time to reflect honestly on my friendships so that, come September, I can sprinkle my SRE lessons with some realistic perspective on the “R”.
Still in touch with your friends from school? Do you see relationships affecting pupils wellbeing? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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