Connect with your Kids

The Conversation Our Teens Want to Have with Us, Based on a Harvard Study

Jan 17, 2018    |   by Holli Fawcett Clayton

We talk to our teens about a lot of things. Curfews. Grades. Screen time. Saying no to drugs and alcohol. Social media. College applications. Practice schedules. The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, there is one subject that often seems to be missing.

It’s one that might surprise you. One that we, as parents, might be afraid to discuss, because it just seems so… uncomfortable. And no, it’s not sex. 

A recent Harvard study suggests that it’s actually more than that—it’s about how to have successful romantic relationships. 

According to relationship expert Jayson Gaddis, the study suggests that parents need to take the lead in teaching their children how to experience “realistic, mature, adult love.” Because kids long to be taught how to really love someone. And the sad thing is that we are essentially leaving it to “the media, peer culture, and society” to teach them about this critical part of life. 

Uh, oh.

We spend so much time ensuring that our kids can solve algebra equations and correctly answer standardized test questions and play instruments and even throw a ball to win a championship. But are they learning how to truly love another person? 

Apparently not. Gaddis says that our teens need more from us when it comes to learning about real love. “Behind their screens and walls, young people are longing for our help and guidance here,” he writes.  

This speaks volumes. In short, it means that we aren’t sufficiently educating our kids on one of life’s most important skills. And this day in age, it’s downright scary to think they have to turn on a TV, or listen to a song, or watch the latest Netflix series to learn how to build lasting, meaningful relationships, especially a potential marriage.

So, as parents, what can we do to teach our children about loving others in a way that leads to successful long-term relationships—something that research has clearly shown to be so important in determining overall happiness? 

Harvard researchers recommend that we start conversations with our teens about romance. That we talk about the good and the bad. About what’s healthy and what isn’t. About conflict resolution and other relationship-building skills. About our own romantic experiences and what we've learned. And about what’s fair

Sounds pretty simple right? I’m going to be honest. After a grueling divorce from my first husband, I feel ill-equipped to have these talks. And though I am happily remarried to a man who exemplifies the term “good husband” (just ask my kids), it’s still hard to offer credible relationship advice with a track record that includes a failed marriage.

I have a feeling that some of you reading this might also have reservations about your ability to administer relationship advice, for a variety of different reasons.

But just remember this: by educating yourself on this topic and initiating these conversations with your kids, you’re moving in the right direction. And as Harvard researchers have pointed out, “relationship failures can generate as much insight into the ingredients of healthy relationships as relationship success.” So don’t be discouraged. Kids need to hear from us, no matter our track records.

On that note, here are some things I’ve learned from my own romantic relationships that I plan to share with my children:

1. In a healthy relationship, conflict should feel like a bump in the road (ok, sometimes a huge pothole), not like falling off the side of a cliff and struggling to climb your way back up.

2. If harmony can only be achieved with significant change by one person or the other, move on. Core personalities don’t change. You don’t want to spend your life begging someone to be something they're not. 

3. Ask yourself whether this person generally makes your life easier or harder. And then ask yourself whether you generally make this person’s life easier or harder. If the answer is harder, to one or both questions, then the relationship is probably not healthy.

Just some food for thought. I'm curious... what would you tell your teen? 

As the new year begins, conversations about how to love will become a priority in our home—just as important as any academic course or music lesson or sports activity or lecture about the dangers of alcohol and drug use. Because if my children don’t know how to truly love and connect with others in lasting, meaningful ways, nothing else will really matter.

Holli Fawcett Clayton
I’m Holli Fawcett Clayton, creator of Courageous & Connected, a website about human connection and the ways we can find it.
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