By Cathryn Murray
These days, society is largely influenced by social media and what is current. A trending message across social media at the moment is the importance of self-love, paired with the idea that we cannot give our love to someone else if we have not learned to love ourselves first. “If you can’t love yourself, how you gonna love somebody else…?” as our Mama Ru would say.
It’s been seven years since I left secondary school and, although the curriculum may have changed several times in those seven years, I can’t imagine that secondary school culture has changed that much. If that is the case, then I’m sure relationships are just as important among teenagers as they were then, regardless of whether they have achieved self-love or not.
With all the insecurities flying around at secondary school, the validation of a relationship is of the biggest importance. As a new series of the popular Netflix show Sex Education looms on the horizon, it solidifies that relationships are still as important at a young age in 2021 as they were in 2014. Although at the time they seem so important, are they always positive?
A Learning Curve
We’ve all heard of childhood sweethearts and have probably heard a story amongst families and friends of a couple who met in school, stood the test of time and married later in life.
As I sat with my notebook and pondered the pros of young relationships, I realised that most young relationships help us learn lessons that will benefit our future relationships.
What makes us happy
What makes us unhappy
What we like
How to build relationships
Young relationships help us explore a side of ourselves that we don’t experience unless we are dating. We can experience fuzzy dating feelings. We find out what gives us the ick. We discover we hate it when someone uses the word babe, but we love it when they talk passionately about films. Additionally, young relationships let us delve into our sexuality. Fortunately, in the UK diverse sexuality is (mostly) accepted. Young people are able to recognise their own sexuality through early relationships. Even if those young relationships aren’t compatible with their sexuality, they are able to discover this earlier in life.
It’s not safe to be unhealthy
“It’s normal to enjoy getting compliments, feeling special and safe or like you’ve got more confidence. But relationships can sometimes change and it can be hard to know when things are starting to go wrong.” (Childline, 2021).
Although young relationships can help us to learn, it’s not always easy to know what is good and what is bad. At such a young age we (usually) have very little experience of toxicity and manipulation meaning it’s hard to spot these things in a partner, especially when the rose-tinted glasses are welded to our eyes; it’s hard to spot these things in adult romantic relationships, even with a little more experience. Being in a young relationship exposes us to the possibility of trauma and heartbreak that unhealthy relationships and breakups can bring. Ironically, the pro of discovering what we don’t want in a relationship, thus equipping us with this knowledge for future experiences, we have to therefore be unhappy in a relationship at a young age.
I am led to believe that sex education in schools has vastly improved since I was sitting in those awkward classes back in 2014, but I know that these lessons still have a long way to go. Poor sex education exposes young people to unhealthy, and sometimes non-consensual sexual relationships when they are seeking “education” elsewhere. This leads to some young people experiencing unhealthy or one-sided sexual encounters that they are led to believe are normal. “Consent in relationships is about feeling in control and saying yes or doing things because you choose to.” (Childline, 2021).
Overall, we can conclude that young people being in relationships is not a problem. The many cons I have discussed are caused by the lack of education for young people about healthy relationships and how to maintain them. Immaturity sometimes means young people do not welcome education about positive relationships and talking about healthy sex. This begs the question, why is the curriculum not catering for its audience and making this important education accessible to the young people it was made for? “It is important to educate youth about the value of respect and the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships before they start to date.” (Youth Gov, 2021).
I don’t believe that young people should avoid relationships. What is classed as a young relationship? What’s the difference between being in a relationship at 16 to being in one at 18 and or meeting someone at 21? Regardless of when you get into your first relationship, you are as inexperienced as you would be at any age. The point is that in order to avoid most of the cons we should be educating young people in-depth about how to maintain a positive and healthy relationship.