The school that I work at has introduced a class called “Stretch” that is compulsory for all students. The idea behind this class is to cover all of the life skills stuff that is not covered in regular academic classes. Although it could be argued that much of it is covered in day to day dealings with students. But of course that doesn’t count. It could also be argued that many of the things that are covered in Stretch; things like, how to choose a good first car, how to apply for a credit card, how to travel overseas safely, how to study effectively are things that should be perhaps taught by parents but that is a topic for another time and probably another place.
I have volunteered to prepare and deliver lessons about consent and relationship stuff for a couple of different age groups. The first lesson was for 16 – 17 year olds and is focussing around the idea of consent and avoiding unwanted sexual situations including how bad mannered sending dick pics is. Especially considering that capturing and distributing sexual images of a person under the age of 18 is illegal in Australia and can land you in jail. Even if they are pictures of YOUR penis. This lesson is fairly stock standard. A lot, but not all, of the students in this group are sexually active at some level. Many have had serious (to them) relationships and so are almost adults.
The second group are 13 – 14. Slightly younger in years but so much younger when it comes to relationships. They have dabbled in dating in a childish pre-teen way and I am assuming that there are some who are sexually active at some level. I am pretty sure penetrative sex at this age is the exception rather than the rule but sex is not just about penis in vagina. Whatever the case it has been identified that these guys are not very good at dealing with situations where someone is getting rejected or when someone has an opinion that is different from the loudest (not necessarily the most popular) person in the group.
My lesson is structured in this way;
- Students will be able to deal with an unwanted advance tactfully and kindly
- Students will be able to handle a rejection with grace and walk away knowing it is not the end of the world
- I am able to be honest and kind with a person who likes me who I don’t like me back
- I will be able to be understanding and sensible when someone doesn’t like me back and not engage in any kind of childish, stupid or aggressive behaviour.
Ok so when I write those on the board I may use different words but you get the idea.
What scared me the most was the amount of material I found, while doing some research, that encouraged a level of game playing. This included videos and articles with titles like “How to get her to like you”, “What she REALLY means when she says no” and “How to keep him interested.” Now most of this is produced by and for young “adults” but I am certain that my students will be watching this. The amount of material that I could find that was a) produced for younger teenagers and b) relaying positive messages was miniscule.
I found all of this terrifying. What are we teaching our young people? Where is the honesty? Where is the acceptance that not everyone I am attracted to is going to like me back? Adding to that the idea that being rejected is not a sign that you are worth less? As a parent I have striven to imprint on my children the importance of being as honest as possible with people and avoiding games. It is not an easy path when your peers are not using the same value set. But good relationships are a long game and the gratification is not always instant.
Based on the junk I have uncovered on the internet and my observation of student behaviour, game playing seems to be pretty much the norm. Conversations about “being left on read” and what he really meant, and how to turn her opinion around are rife. The idea that a boy should “fight” for a relationship by persisting with his attention after being told no is particularly frightening.
It is a great boost to the ego when someone demonstrates their undying love consistently even in the face of adversity but the danger of encouraging persistence after the initial no is that people don’t know when no actually does mean no and this can ultimately lead to rape.
There are two sides to no. The first is the telling. Women are conditioned to be compliant and pleasant to suitors, even those they don’t like so much. On top of this humans are wired to avoid conflict. So if we get into a situation that requires rejecting someone we will avoid rather than standing up and saying how we feel. Enter the behaviour of ghosting and “leaving on read”. I am guilty of doing both of these. It is hard to say no. Especially if you have indicated interest early in the conversation. If me, a mature, strong woman finds it hard how hard must it be for a 13 year old feeling the extreme of peer pressure?
The second side is hearing no. It hurts. As an adult it is a knock back. To a teenager striving to be accepted it is of course devastating. Young boys in particular often struggle to contain tempers and express themselves in a non-violent way. Young girls resort to emotional “bitchy” behaviour when they don’t have the tools to deal with this. While the junk that I have described above floats around on the internet the idea that No doesn’t really mean No is going to persist and these young people are not going go through the painful growth of learning how to take a rejection with grace and maturity.
As an educator I am passionate about educating in a holistic way. This means teaching students life skills and encouraging them to grow into decent humans that treat each other with respect. Which is why I am passionate about making sure that this Stretch lesson happens. What concerns me is that many teachers are unaware of the rubbish that students are exposed to and how dating has changed in the last 10 -20 years. What concerns me even more is that parents are even less aware of what is going on in their children’s lives and are not equipping their children with the confidence and skills to deal with this stuff. Schools can only do so much and one or two lessons is like one person trying to stop an ocean.
This post is part of Wicked Wednesday prompt #435 “The Games We Play”. To see who else is posting!