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How not to be Romeo and Juliet

  • Published at 01:10 pm July 20th, 2016
How not to be Romeo and Juliet
Karim was studying for his HSC exams when he met Dipti (not their real names) at a coaching centre. While their brief romance blossomed initially, circumstances led them to higher education in different countries. The separation was hard for both of them, and Karim started to become suspicious and eventually aggressive, and Dipti decided to end things. Karim's behaviour became increasingly erratic after that, jumping from tears and entreaties to threats and insults. He threatened self-harm and suicide, and threatened to harm her as well. While this is not always the case, it is fact that people can react badly to breakups, especially young men and women. Suicide threats and threats of self-harm, from both sexes on the event of a breakup, has turned into something we casually joke about. We all know someone who has allowed their lives to change and exhibited extremely negative attitudes and behaviour after having their hearts broken. We tend to trivialise it as a fault of youth, something that happens when your 'blood runs warm' as we call it. While it is good to be in touch with your emotions, emotional blackmail and violent reactions should not be okay (this seems quite obvious), but it is far from uncommon in modern relationships. How do we deal with this? Relationships are still considered a taboo in our societies that parents set very few examples for their children on how to behave in them. The first reaction is always – don't be in one – but let's stop being naive and just accept that young people will fall in love, and will get their hearts broken. But how do we teach them to channel the pain into something positive, instead of having negative outbursts of emotion, and move on like sensible almost-adults? Loved ones, not property space According to clinical psychologist Eric Herman, the ability to have healthy relationships is rooted in the ability to form healthy attachments to others, especially caregivers, and early on in life. Forming healthy attachments early on in life is imperative to ensuring that young adults have healthy emotional bonds later. Children are psychologically aware that they are helpless without adults, and it is up to us to ensure that they feel safe and protected. However, it is equally important to not create dependency on one specific attachment, but ensure that they are able to have multiple relationships with other adults and children as well. While most parents focus on making their children feel loved and protected (as they should), what we often tend to overlook is the importance of encouraging independence in teenage years, and the danger of creating dependency. When we allow this dependency to exist, we inadvertently give the lesson that love is something to be demanded and owned. When this happens, they are more likely to grow up to be young adults who become dependent on their significant others later on in life, and then react negatively or violently when they no longer have that person in their lives. It is also imperative that parents lead by example, and don't exhibit that lack of independence in their own relationships as well. If you have a mother who bows down to your father's every whims, you're obviously more likely to internalise that lesson, and except your other half to behave in the same way as well. Teaching consent from an early age Most parents do try and discipline their children and in most households, you will hear the usual refrain – 'no means no'. While this is a necessary lesson to pass on, it can often ignore the nuances of consent, such as consent given through peer pressure and emotional blackmail, and also ignores that people have the right to say 'change their minds and yes' once but 'no' later. How children learn about consent will inform their future relationships, so it is necessary for adults to discuss it in a comprehensive manner. Make sure that your children not only know how to ask for consent, but know that it can be taken away as easily as it is given. It is also important to teach them the difference between a non-response and enthusiastic consent, and talk about the concept of pressuring others against their will. According to feminist writer Joanna Schroeder, it is never too early to teach your children about consent, and you should start giving these lessons and setting an example as early as possible. One example of a good way to drive home this lesson is to never give in to temper tantrums – When you validate this sort of behaviour, you are teaching your child that in future, they can pressurise or force their partners into doing what they want. It is also necessary to constantly encourage them to use their imagination and put themselves in other people's shoes, so that they learn that their own way isn't the only way. Talking is the only option Last but definitely not least, the only way to ensure that young people are making the right choices and not letting their sadness and anger get the best of them, is to talk to them. We tend to focus a lot on ensuring our children excel at school, that they have good manners and they treat adults with respect. But we need them to know that respect is not just bottom-up, and youngsters themselves need to be treated with respect as well. Allowing young people to make their own choices and respecting their emotions is crucial to building up their personalities, but we also need to tell them where the line is drawn, and this is impossible without open and honest conversations. So let's be more open when talking about relationships, rather than shutting young people down and telling them to simply focus on their education and ignore their feelings. Let's talk about different degrees of control within relationships, and how to love someone without disrupting your life or theirs. Let's be more open when talking about bodies and how they have full control of their bodies and choices, and let's continue to have dialogue about consent. We still live in a country where sex education is completely taboo, but the taboo needs to be broken by parents themselves if they are going to raise awareness. This taboo needs to be broken not only on the physical afflictions that come with relationships, but the mental ones as well.
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