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Is your guy a great guy?

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

I read “Telling it like it is: Teen Perspectives on Romantic Relationships” and you’re right—many teen relationships (and more than a few adult relationships) are not healthy. Many of us lack the information and skills needed to build a healthy relationship.

You’ve identified things that make for a healthy relationship—respect, trust, honesty, good communication, for example—and behaviors that don’t make for a healthy relationship—things like cheating, lying, name-calling, hitting, bossing. But what needs do you expect to get met?

When discussing what makes for a healthy relationship some of you talked about needs like to be important (a guy pays special attention to you or makes time for you), or to be pleased (he’s thoughtful), or to feel interesting (he doesn’t walk away in the middle of a conversation when he spots one of his friends), or to accept each other as you are. In a healthy relationship you deserve to have all these needs met, and more. We all have lots of needs—to be familiar with, to accept, to forgive, to support, to please, to listen, to understand, to be important, to be interesting, to value yourself and him and to expect the same in return.

I found the way you expressed the stages of a teen relationship, from less serious to most serious, insightful. I believe you can use healthy relationship criteria to make better choices—choosing who your boyfriend is, when to have sex, and whether to stay in a relationship or to exit, for example—and to help you figure out other important stuff, like whether or not your boyfriend loves you. Here are some examples of how to use healthy relationship criteria within three stages—“getting to know the person,” “friends with benefits,” and “boyfriend.”

Getting to know the person

Beliefs influence actions. We all believe different things about what makes for a healthy relationship. Accepting a guy as he is, warts and all? No way! Often the criteria we use to assess a guy don’t include what makes for a healthy relationship. To truly know if your guy’s great, you must really know him, like his traits, and be able to accept how he gets his needs met from you.

Your needs are beautiful things, a deep part of who you are. One healthy relationship criterion—met needs—can help you determine if you’re with a great guy. Are you really familiar with him? Can you describe him—would you list the same traits his ex-girlfriend would (stubborn, funny, dependable, jealous, for example)? To meet your need to be familiar with him, you must know what his best and worst personality traits are. If you really like him, you may have to come to terms with some traits you don’t like. But you can’t accept a guy’s annoying traits if they undermine your self-respect. 

What we all need is a bar—a standard for how you expect to be treated in a relationship. Think of it like a high jump; a guy has to clear your bar for you to let him into your life in a serious way. If you respect yourself, then only a great guy will treat you with enough respect to clear your bar. If your bar is too low, just about any guy can jump over it—and into your life. Your bar is too low if you accept the way a guy treats you because you love him, or want a boyfriend at any price, or don’t understand how a guy should show you respect.

You say communication is important—true. Can you have a heart-to-heart conversation with your guy? You can’t if stubborn is one of his traits. If he ignores what you think and how you feel, he won’t change his mind about anything. A Prince really listens, meeting your needs to be heard and understood. He’ll adjust his behavior—stop flirting, for example—if you ask him to and explain how you feel. A Prince meets your needs. A Frog doesn’t—he doesn’t listen, doesn’t add to his own self-knowledge or his understanding of you.

Another way to tell if your guy respects you is by how he gets his needs met from you. After spending time with him, have you discovered a gap between who you thought he was and who he really is? You say, “Good personality, maybe, but you’re gonna get liars.” Does your guy use character—say what he means, do what he says, know right from wrong—to get what he wants?

You believe that your having trust in a relationship is more important than his being honest—not true. Is honesty one of your guy’s traits? If he lies to you about where he was or what he did, he doesn’t respect you (or himself) enough to tell the truth. If he’s not reliable, if he doesn’t do what he says, he doesn’t respect you enough to follow through on his promises. If he talks to his friends about what you do sexually, to gain popularity, he doesn’t respect you.

Here’s a heart-saving shortcut: Your guy won’t have your back, and you cannot trust him, if he doesn’t have character. Until you know if your guy has character, don’t value him—tell him what you think and feel—about yourself, and him, and your relationship.

Is aggressive one of your guy’s traits? You say, “…one boy can be…honest, respectful, and you have a connection. But then, he’ll be violent or something.” You need to know how to deal with conflict—here’s why. How does your guy act when it’s difficult for you to meet his needs (for example, when he wants something you don’t want to give him)? Heart-saving shortcut: You deserve to be treated with respect. These unhealthy behaviors shouldn’t clear any woman’s bar. A guy doesn’t respect you if, when he can’t get his way, he punishes you, or calls you names like ‘bitch’ or ‘slut,’ or gets even by spreading rumors, or threatens to post embarrassing pictures of you on Facebook. If a guy is physically rough, tell someone, and find a way to respect yourself—and EXIT!

“Friends with Benefits”

You say, “friends w/benefits” is sex no-strings. But it seems like it’s a stage that you go through to get to boyfriend.  (I’m just saying, not judging.) Here’s what you should know: “If you were in college you’d have less than a 25% chance of your hook-up getting to boyfriend stage,” but you’re in high-school, so you do the math (Laid: Young People’s Experiences with Sex in an Easy-Access Culture, 2009). Count your hook-ups (or your friends’) and divide by the number of times you got to boyfriend.

Some girls set their bar too low. A girl might hook up with a guy because she uses sex to get popularity, or to get her closer to the boyfriend stage, or she believes she loves him. That girl needs information to reset her bar.

When we get a need met, we feel happy, no longer wanting. Each choice we make creates a consequence—a met need (good feeling) or unmet need (mixed, confused or hurt feeling). Let’s say you used “friends w/benefits” to meet your physical needs. How do you feel the next day? If you’re happy, not expecting a phone call, not secretly hoping for more, chances are you’re a player. But if you’re waiting for the guy to make your relationship official, sleeping with him is probably leaving you feeling hurt, empty and confused—or worse, feeling nothing at all.

A big part of self-respect is making choices that include your own feelings, needs and beliefs. If you know and love yourself, you’ll choose what’s good for you—not just good for him. You say, one way a guy shows respect is to see you for more than your body or physical appearance—true!  You shouldn’t have to get his attention by being willing to do sexually for him. Do you believe a guy would find you interesting without the sex? A guy should be getting to know you and to like your traits, and to accept how you get your needs met from him. Can you give up what you deserve, and grow happy? When a guy’s shopping for sex, it’s all about him—how he earns respect from his friends—it has nothing to do with you. And it should have something to do with you—as in, he thinks you’re a great girl.

Heart-saving shortcut: Does your guy use a condom? One of the needs we’re responsible to meet for ourselves is safety—to keep ourselves safe from harm. A guy who doesn’t use a condom does not respect himself or you. He’s exposing himself—and you—to the risk of diseases, pregnancy, even death (AIDS). Insisting on safe sex is one way to respect yourself.

You say you earn respect from your peers, based on how a guy treats you in front of them—he doesn’t put you down, doesn’t ignore you, acts like he cares about you. Here’s a way to get there. Reset your bar to Great Guy, or the right guy for you in a healthy relationship. You deserve to grow happy—to be with someone who wants to be with you as much as you want to be with him.

If your guy’s not a Prince—a great guy for you, in a healthy relationship—then he’s a Frog. What makes for a healthy relationship means different things to different people, but the common factor is that our most important needs are met, there are heart-to-heart conversations, and the respect—self-respect, respect for others, and the expectation to be treated respectfully—is mutual.

Heart-saving shortcut by Dr. Julius Licata at TeenCentral: Thought of abstinence as a choice? When you choose the right time to have sex, you’ll experience being in control; having control builds self-esteem. There’s a right time to have sex. Not knowing the person makes sex meaningless and empty. What does the guy like? Who is he? Why are you and he connecting? Abstinence keeps you safe—no fear of pregnancy or STD’s. And abstinence gives you time to build real love and understanding, so when sex does happen, it is not just mutual masturbation but the sincere act of caring and affection.

Boyfriend

You say the boyfriend/girlfriend stage involves going out and doing activities regularly, and the hubby/wife stage is where you expect a guy not to cheat. You believe that all guys cheat. Simply not true! If your hubby cheats, he doesn’t have character. Or know what makes for a healthy relationship. During the boyfriend/girlfriend stage, look to see if these needs are met: the need to be familiar with, to accept, to forgive and value yourself and him, to expect the same in return. If they are, you have a chance to build a healthy relationship.

Is your guy really familiar with you?  Does he really know you? Say you asked him to describe you—would he list the same traits your best friends would (funny, thoughtful, demanding, for example)? What about your need to feel accepted? Is he critical of you? If he’s always trying to change the way you do things, you won’t get your need for acceptance met. Does he bring stuff up you said you were sorry for? If so, you’ve identified another unmet need. When you ask him questions, does he say, “I dunno” or “I don’t want to talk right now”? If so, he isn’t valuing you. Your need to be valued will be met only when a guy trusts you enough to tell you how he really feels and thinks—about himself, and you, and your relationship.

Of course, it’s hard to know how to deal with things that come up in relationships, like the ones you’ve mentioned—your guy ignoring you, putting you down, acting like he doesn’t care about you (flirting with other girls, for example) when he’s with his friends. To build a healthy relationship, you must be able to tell your guy when he’s not treating you with respect. To do that, you must understand what’s going on between you. Can you identify your feelings in a relationship, articulate them to your boyfriend, and be willing to exit if things don’t change? Yes, you can! Needs are beautiful things.

Hurt feelings grow out of unmet needs. When your boyfriend doesn’t consider your feelings and needs in his choices—ignores you at parties, say, or flirts with other girls—hurt feelings bubble up. Those feelings are a signal. This guy might be a Frog. What to do? Armed with “good points”—“You never make time for me” or “You ignore me at parties”—you can talk to him about why you don’t feel special—and choose to break up with him if he doesn’t change. By using unmet needs as good reasons to exit, you can make tough self-respect choices.

If you start liking yourself less when you’re with a guy, you’re with a Frog. Let’s set your bar: ask yourself, “Are lots of my needs still met by me, my friends and family? Or would I feel empty and lost without my boyfriend?” If the latter, you’re not respecting yourself, not meeting your own needs. Ask yourself: “Can I tell my best friend the good, the bad, and the ugly experiences I’ve shared with my boyfriend without her asking, ‘Why do you put up with that?’” If your answer is no, the message is clear: you don’t respect yourself. Your bar is too low; it’s set to Frog.  

If you don’t expect to end up with a Prince in a healthy loving relationship, your bar is too low. You can only set your bar according to what you know. Maybe you’ve never known a great guy. Maybe you’ve only gone out with guys who didn’t respect your feelings or didn’t want to get to know you as a person. Maybe you weren’t fortunate enough to watch your parents in a loving, healthy relationship. That’s the past. Any girl can raise her bar using healthy relationship criteria to build a great relationship with a guy.

You say you don’t believe in that crazy little thing called love. You should, but you have to be able to recognize it. When a guy tells you he loves you, those are just words—unless you can see that he’s actively, deliberately trying to meet your needs, not just his own. Real love is what you experience in a healthy relationship, when your boyfriend is happily meeting your needs (and maybe some you didn’t even know you had!) and you’re happily meeting his. And all the while each of you is maintaining your self-respect and meeting your own needs, too. That’s not crazy, and it’s not little. It’s love.

Best, Kaycee Jane

Kaycee Jane is the author of Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends (Amazon-only). Jane blogs at www.frogorprince.ca. When life seems overwhelming, try http://www.teencentral.net/and get anonymous help from a professional.

Your daughter’s boyfriend

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Remember this? Pull off the first petal and say: “He loves me.” And the next: “He loves me not.” Repeat until you get to the last petal to find out whether your boyfriend loves you or not. Sound crazy? Have you talked to your daughter about love? Or left it up to Google?

The other day, riding the bus, I overheard one woman tell another about her daughter’s great boyfriend. I almost turned and said, “You are one lucky duck.” Instead I eavesdropped as she went through her criteria—he comes from a good family (his dad’s a doctor), owns his own car, buys her daughter bling, and so on. Nothing about his traits (was he thoughtful, honest, kind?) or his character (did he respect her?). How, I wondered, could she know if he was actually a great guy?

Often the standards we use to assess what makes for a great guy don’t include what makes for a healthy relationship. Ask Tiger Woods’s mother-in-law. Since we can’t choose or criticize our daughters’ boyfriends, it’s our daughters who need to be able to determine who’s a great guy. Other than her feelings, what criteria does she use?

Beliefs influence actions. Our daughters believe lots of things about what makes for a great relationship—like, you have to accept a guy as he is, warts and all. Poppycock! To truly know if her guy is great, she must really know him, and like his traits, and be able to accept how he gets his needs met from her.

One healthy relationship criterion—met needs—can help a girl determine if she’s with a great guy. Is your daughter really familiar with her boyfriend? Say you asked her to describe him—would she list the same traits his ex-girlfriend would (aggressive, funny, dependable, jealous, for example)? To meet her need to be familiar with him, she must know what his best and worst personality traits are. If she really likes him, she may have to come to terms with some traits she may not like. But she can’t accept a guy’s annoying traits if they undermine her self-respect.  

Some girls set their bar too low. A girl might accept the way a guy treats her because she loves him, wants a boyfriend at any price, or doesn’t understand how a guy should show her respect. Some girls think jealousy is a “slam-dunk” sign that a guy loves her. It’s not. Jealousy can be a precursor to stalking.

Share this heart-saving shortcut with your daughter: “A guy who’s always jealous, controlling, never trusting, feels he’s not worth your trust. His lack of self-worth makes him afraid of anything that might take you away from him—friends, family, a job, other guys. He doesn’t respect himself, so how could he respect you? If you let him control you, you’re confirming what he believes: that you don’t respect yourself enough to stand up to him and leave.”

Your daughter can tell if her guy respects her by how he gets his needs met from her. Does he use character—saying what he means, doing what he says, knowing right from wrong—to get what he wants? Tiger’s wife can attest to how important a guy’s character is. An important part of getting to know a guy is finding out whether she can trust what he says. If he lies to her about where he was/what he did, he doesn’t respect her (or himself) enough to tell the truth.

How does her guy act when it’s difficult for her to meet his needs (for example, when he wants something she doesn’t want to give him)? “The Teen Relationships Project” is studying bullying, harassment, and dating violence in relationships of Canadian children and youth. Half of surveyed students are victims of verbal aggression (spreading rumors, getting even, hurtful teasing). One in four is a victim of minor physical aggression (pushing, grabbing, smashing an object). One in five is a victim of major physical aggression.

Share another heart-saving shortcut with your daughter: “You deserve to be treated with respect. These unhealthy behaviors shouldn’t clear any woman’s bar. A guy doesn’t respect you if, when he can’t get his way, he punishes you, or calls you names like ‘bitch’ or ‘slut,’ or gets even by spreading rumors, or threatens to post embarrassing pictures of you on Facebook. If a guy is physically rough in any way, tell me, and we’ll find a way for you to respect yourself—and EXIT!”

Teens are easily confused between what’s healthy and what’s not. So are more than a few adults. Does your daughter understand that Tiger’s behavior reflects his lack of understanding of a healthy relationship? And that Elin’s leaving him reflects her self-respect. Stand by your man? Not when he’s a Frog!

In a healthy relationship, your daughter’s most important needs are met, there are heart-to-heart conversations, and the respect—self-respect, respect for others, and the expectation to be treated respectfully—is mutual.  Taking care of herself—meeting her own needs—is an act of self-respect, and a big step toward coming to know what she needs and expects in an adult relationship.

Talk to your daughter about love—to show her a way to see love. Share this heart-saving shortcut: “When a guy tells you he loves you, those are just words. Love is what you experience when he’s happily meeting your needs (and maybe some you didn’t even know you had!) and you’re happily meeting his, all the while maintaining your self-respect and meeting your own needs, too.”

Kaycee Jane is the author of Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends (Amazon only). Jane blogs at www.frogorprince.ca. When life with your teen seems overwhelming, try www.TeenCentral. Net’s Parent section and get help from a professional.

Teen dating violence

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Have you ever talked to your teen about dating violence? Many parents talk about sex, bullying, smoking, internet safety, substance abuse—all good subjects. But dating violence? It’s a complex issue, and largely neglected.

“Maybe that’s because we perceive it as not likely to happen to our own teens,” says Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, of the University of British Columbia’s School of Nursing. “Only incidents resulting in death make the news. And we don’t understand how much impact all levels of violence can have. Emotional and lower levels of physical abuse may not put you into the hospital, but they can affect your health by causing you to do poorly in school and at work, contributing to depression, substance abuse, even suicide.”

“We’re where the bullying research was 15 years ago,” says Dr. Claire Crooks, of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “Dating violence isn’t taken seriously because dating is not taken seriously. Measurement issues coupled with lack of standardized definitions create another layer of complexity. Also, we don’t have consensus among educators on whether teen dating violence is a parental matter or a public matter.”

 A 2008 Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics survey found that, in the age group 14-18 in Canada, 4 teens died, 148 were sexually assaulted, and 2,586 were physically assaulted by an intimate partner. And these statistics don’t capture emotional/verbal, physical, and sexual aggression—the most common forms of violence in teen dating.

The Teen Relationships Project, meanwhile, found that half of all teenaged students are victims of verbal aggression (spreading rumors, getting even, hurtful teasing), one in four is a victim of minor physical aggression (pushing, grabbing or smashing an object) and one in five is a victim of major physical aggression (like slamming someone against a wall, or slapping).

We tend to dismiss the impact of low-level violence or conflict that results from poor relationship skills, says Saewyc. “Youth model the relationships they see around them. How much sexual violence and abuse in the media do you think teens see as normal, and in peer and adult relationships?”

Steve Sullivan, the first Federal Ombudsman for victims of crime, says: “With teen violence, we need to learn more about how youth define it. Some victims may not think that a slap is violence; they may not see, or want to see, their partner as a violent person.  It’s difficult to convince anyone to come forward when they recognize unacceptable behaviour, but it’s even more difficult if teens don’t understand the behaviour as criminal aggression. We need to find a way to educate teens about violence, abuse and aggression, and let them know that it doesn’t just mean serious physical harm.”

Teens get confused between what’s healthy and what’s not, says Kate McCord, the Red Flag Campaign Co-coordinator for the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. “Very few of us—adults—have been taught this. It’s worthwhile to teach kids how relationships can be affirming versus destructive. Healthy relationship concepts—for example, what trust, safety, connection, boundaries or balance look like—can be nebulous to understand.”

How do we reduce teen violence? We need potential victims and abusers “to understand that violence is unacceptable and has real consequences,” says Sullivan. Help teenagers understand how to recognize abuse, and encourage them to report it. Call your teen’s high school, find out how they deal with sexual harassment, and ask whether they have a dating violence program in place.

 “It’s important to provide programs in schools that focus on healthy relationships. But that’s not enough,” says Saewyc. “We also need to help parents and families understand what a healthy relationship is so that they can support their teens.”

Dating violence can escalate from verbal and emotional abuse to sexual assault and violent physical assault. Abuse continuums (co-developed by college-aged students) at www.theredflagcampaign.org illustrate how dating violence works and highlight early warning signs. The continuum describes an escalating range from sexist jokes, sexual objectification, jealousy, minimizing partner’s feelings and needs regarding sex, criticizing a partner sexually, unwanted touch, withholding sex and affection, sexual labels like “whore” or “frigid,” always demanding sex—all the way to murder.

I asked McCord what’s important for a parent to understand about dating violence. She said: “What calls for attention is the gray area—psychological abuse. For example, isolation, jealousy and coercion are not necessarily illegal or physical, but they are no less destructive than physical and sexual violence and can be precursors to physical and sexual violence.”

Would your teen know what to do if her boyfriend insulted her repeatedly, called her names, demanded all her attention, ignored her feelings, or put down her ability to act on her own behalf?  Teens need to know what to do when they come up against aggressive behaviors in a relationship. “Youth need better skills for how to manage conflict in respectful ways,” says Saewyc. “They need to know what their rights and responsibilities in a relationship are,” adds Crooks. “And that when they break up with someone, that person doesn’t have the right to send out naked pictures of them on Facebook.”

There are good on-line resources to help you to understand how to talk to your child. Here are some:

 “Teen dating violence is a serious issue in Canada,” says Sullivan, who adds that crimes of violence between intimate partners are seriously under-reported. “Beyond the statistics is a young person who in many cases is suffering the victimization alone. Many do not tell anyone and therefore do not get the support they need. And they learn the wrong lessons from the violence—they deserved it, they’re not worthy of better treatment—that they carry into adult relationships.”

Kaycee Jane is the author of Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends (Amazon). Jane blogs at www.frogorprince.ca. When life with your teen seems overwhelming, try www.TeenCentral.net’s Parent section and get help from a professional.

“The Talk” Spoken to your daughter about teen sex? Check. But what about teen dating?

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

We know about the consequences of not talking to our daughters about sex. Daytime television and tabloid papers are rife with them. But what about the consequences of not talking to them about healthy relationships? Sure, we make rules—at what age they can date, for instance, and what type of dating activities are appropriate. Is that enough? Absolutely not.

We like to think that a young woman gradually works her way from Frog to Prince, each guy hopefully a little better than the one before. In most cases, alas, she never gets to the Prince. Relationships are complicated. Often, our daughters lack the information and skills to build a healthy relationship with a boyfriend.

I started to write Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends for my daughter after I saw her holding the hand of a Frog. I wanted her to understand that in a healthy relationship our important needs are met, that partners have heart-to-heart conversations, and that respect—self-respect, respect for others, and the expectation to be treated respectfully—is mutual.

We all have needs (to accept, to forgive, to feel important , to value ourselves and another, to expect those things in return). How can your daughter tell if she’s in a healthy relationship? To repeat: by assessing whether those needs are getting met. Here’s a heart-saving shortcut to tell her: “If you and your boyfriend keep having re-run arguments about the same need—say, your need to feel important—you’ve discovered an unmet need. Hurt feelings grow out of unmet needs. When your boyfriend doesn’t include your feelings and needs in his choices—canceling plans when something better comes up, for example—hurt feelings bubble up. Those feelings are a signal. This guy might be a frog.”

Here’s another way she can tell: Can she have a heart-to-heart with her guy, even when she’s negotiating to get her needs met? In a healthy relationship, both partners listen; each will meet the other’s need to be heard and understood. They’ll challenge one another, adjust their perspective if the other raises good points. Another heart-saving shortcut: “When your guy doesn’t listen, he can’t add to his self-knowledge or his understanding of you. This means he can’t learn and grow in your relationship. And you won’t be able to work through your feelings—you won’t get your needs met.”

In a healthy relationship, a guy will use respect to get his needs met. A big part of respecting others is asking for what you want, then knowing that it’s up to the other person to decide whether they want to meet your need. Here’s another heart-saving shortcut: “If your boyfriend asks you to do something, you get to decide if you want to do it. He may negotiate, but if he can’t get his way, he must respect your answer. If he uses controlling behaviour, making up rules—‘Pick up the phone when I call, no matter what’—or pressuring you to get his wants met, he’s not respecting you.”

Young women need specific skills to develop healthy relationships, says Dr. Joanne Davila in her research paper “Assessing romantic competence in adolescence: The Romantic Competence Interview.” I asked Davila, who teaches Psychology at State University of New York at Stony Brook, if the abilities she assesses in determining a girl’s romantic competence are the same as the skills a girl needs to build a healthy relationship. “I hope so!” she replied. “That’s our goal in developing the construct and doing our research.”

Davila determines whether girls are able “to think about relationships with a consideration of mutuality, in a thoughtful, insightful way that shows learning from experience.” In other words, seeing the other’s perspective, listening, taking turns talking, and adjusting one’s perspective when the other raises good points? “Exactly,” she said.

According to Davila, it’s about “linking the consequences of her choices to her experiences—knowing if I do this now, what’s going to happen in future, or what effect will it have on me or someone else? Being able to decide if she wants to do something based on what’s right for her. Even if all her friends are engaging in sexual activities, say, if she knows she’s not ready emotionally, she realizes, ‘That’s not good for me.’”

Most girls get sad if they fight with their boyfriend, says Davila, but to prevent that from turning into depression, girls need to do things to prevent themselves from getting stuck, things that will help them solve the problem and see their situation in a realistic, balanced way.

If we want our daughters to have the information and skills to build healthy relationships, we must not only talk to them about healthy relationship principles but also incorporate  those principles in our relationship with them.  It’s teaching by example. Only in this way can our daughters avoid the too-frequent negative consequences of dating, such as emotional trauma or a loss of self-esteem.

What happens when girls lack romantic competence? “When young women have troubles in their relationships,” says Davila, “they’re at greater risk for feeling anxious, depressed and developing concerns about their body image, as well as for repeating in later relationships the negative interaction patterns they’ve learned. Being involved in romantic relationships in adolescence is not a bad thing. The message is not to keep our adolescents from having these experiences. The message is to help our daughters be competent in relationships.”

Does your daughter know the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors—between a supportive boyfriend and a controlling one, for example? Does she know how to tell if her boyfriend’s getting his needs met while still respecting her? Does she have the skills to deal with her boyfriend when he can’t get his way? Could she make a tough self-respect choice if it made her boyfriend unhappy or caused him to break up with her?

If you answered “no” to any of those questions, your daughter needs to learn more about what makes for a healthy relationship. When girls know better, they do better—it’s that simple.

Healthy Relationship?—how to tell

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

I read “Kiss and Tell: What Teens Say about Love, Trust, and Other Relationship Stuff” at www.stayteen.org and I found it quite insightful. The survey results said, for example, that “a healthy relationship is one that includes love, trust, mutual respect and honesty”—true!  I also agree that “a healthy relationship means different things to different people,” and that’s why I’d like to share my perspective of what a healthy relationship is. I believe you can use healthy relationship criteria to make better choices—choosing who your boyfriend is, and deciding whether to stay in a relationship or exit it.

I started to write Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends for my daughter after I saw her holding the hand of a Frog. I wanted her to have more knowledge about healthy relationships. When we know better, we do better—it’s that simple. The Prince and the Frog in the title of the book are metaphors for a healthy relationship—or its opposite.

We all have different rules for how boyfriends should treat us and what needs we deserve to get met. The common factor: in a healthy relationship, our most important needs are met, there are heart-to-heart conversations, and the respect—self-respect, respect for others, and the expectation to be treated respectfully—is mutual.

How can you recognize when you’re in a healthy relationship? To repeat, your needs are met. Like the need to become familiar with him (knowing if he has character, for example). The need to happily accept how he treats you. The need to value him (being able to tell him what you think and feel) and be important to him (knowing that he includes your feelings and needs in his choices).

Our needs in a relationship are actually pretty simple: the need to be familiar with, to accept, to forgive and value yourself and him, to expect the same in return. When these needs are met, you have a chance to build a healthy relationship. A Prince meets these needs. A Frog doesn’t.  If you and your boyfriend keep having re-run arguments about the same need—say, your need to feel special—you’ve discovered an unmet need.

Is your guy really familiar with you?  Does he really know you? Say you asked him to describe you—would he list the same traits your best friends would (funny, thoughtful, dependable, for example)? What about your need to feel accepted—is he critical of you? If he’s always trying to change the way you do things, you won’t get your need for acceptance met. Forgiven—does he bring stuff up you said you were sorry for? If so, you’ve identified another unmet need. Valued—when you ask him questions, does he say, “I dunno” or “I don’t want to talk right now”? If so, he isn’t valuing you. Your need to be valued will be met when a guy trusts you enough to tell you how he really feels and thinks—about himself, and you, and your relationship.

Another way to tell if you’re in a healthy relationship?—Can you have a heart-to-heart with your guy? Conversations are where you learn about yourself and your needs, and where you negotiate to get those needs met. You can have those conversations with a Prince—you can’t with a Frog.  A Prince really listens, meeting your need to be heard and understood. He may challenge your view, but he’ll adjust his perspective if you raise good points. A Frog doesn’t listen, doesn’t add to his own self-knowledge or his understanding of you. Which means he can’t learn and grow in the relationship. And you won’t be able to work through your feelings with a Frog—i.e., get your needs met.

Other ways to know if you’re in a healthy relationship? A Prince uses respect to get his needs met. A Frog doesn’t. A Prince will ask for (not demand) what he wants, then wait for your “Yes” or “No” answer. He respects that you’re the one who gets to decide if his want is reasonable or not. He may negotiate, but if he can’t get his way, he’ll respect your “No” answer. A Frog, by contrast, uses controlling behaviour, making up rules—“Pick up the phone when I call, no matter what” for example—or pressuring you to get his wants met.

Who your guy really is, deep down, will determine how well he can meet your needs. A big part of self-respect is realizing we can’t stay in a relationship if we have unmet needs, or if we can’t happily accept how our guy treats us. When you realize that, you must act on it. A Prince uses character to get his needs met—he says what he means, does what he says, knows right from wrong. A Frog doesn’t.

Finally, let’s look at how love, trust, self-respect and honesty play out when you want to have sex with a guy. Every woman has her own beliefs about when to have sex. The choice is a very personal one, partly dependent upon your beliefs. A big part of self-respect is making informed choices—choices that include your own feelings, needs and beliefs, not just his. If you know and love yourself, you’ll choose what’s good for you—not just him. You’ll know when you’re ready for sex. Healthy relationship criteria will help you decide if your guy is right for you—help you make good choices about who to have sex with (and, ultimately, who to marry).

A dishonest guy might tell you he loves you when he doesn’t. A confused guy might tell you he loves you (and think he does), then afterwards decide he doesn’t really love you after all. A controlling guy might try to make his problem your problem: if you don’t want sex, he might say, you’re frigid. Or pressure you—if you don’t give in, I’ll leave.

The dishonest guy is obviously a Frog. He doesn’t respect himself, or you, enough to tell the truth. And the confused guy is also a Frog, though he might not seem to be. The confused Frog doesn’t respect himself enough to understand his own needs and feelings before professing love and asking for sex. That’s why it’s good to find out what your guy is shopping for in a relationship—good to ask questions like “How long do you expect our relationship will last?” As for the controlling guy, he’s basically saying, “You can’t be with me unless you behave the way I want you to.” He doesn’t respect himself, or you. He thinks the only way he can get sex is to manipulate you. If he doesn’t believe he’s worth your time, why should you?

Remember, when a guy tells you he loves you, those are just words—unless you can see and feel that he’s actively, deliberately, trying to meet your needs, not just his own. How do you know if your guy’s honest? An important part of getting to know him is finding out whether you can trust what he says. It’s common to trust him right off the bat, but then you must start asking if his words are matching his actions. Pay attention to the gap between words (“I love you”) and actions (investing time and energy to meet your needs). If a guy has character, he knows himself. You can trust him. You can forgive him for honest mistakes. If he lacks character, though, you can’t trust him. He’s a Frog. Time to exit.

When we make decisions that ignore our beliefs, or we fail to take fully into account our own feelings and needs, we pay a price in self-respect. Chemistry is not love. Chemistry is a reminder: “Pay attention to the consequences!” Chemistry leads to actions, and actions lead to consequences. If the consequences leave you feeling respected and healthy—if you can look in the mirror and see yourself growing happy—then the chemistry might turn into real love. If the consequences leave you feeling guilty, hurt, frightened or confused—perhaps unable to look in the mirror at all—that’s a danger sign.

Healthy relationships are built on trust and respect. That doesn’t just mean trusting and respecting your guy — it means trusting and respecting yourself. Be careful about diving into a new relationship until you can see and feel genuine trust and respect. Before you dive in, wet your toes, splash around, check how deep the water is—make sure you’re in a healthy relationship. So that when you do take the plunge, you’ll be able to surface again—still you, but even happier and even more certain of who you are and what you need.

Best,

Kaycee Jane

"IT'S A TEEN'S WORLD" illustrates how important it is to talk to your daughter about healthy relationships.

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Lynn Glazier’s project “IT’S A TEEN’S WORLD: wired for sex, lies and power trips” gives teens a voice—and they use it to tell us how living in a sexually charged world influences their choices. The teens made short films about sexual gossip, the pursuit of popularity, and abuse of trust in dating relationships.

“IT’S A Teen’s World” explores the price teen girls pay to be cool, hip and popular in a sexually charged social world. It lets us see what our teens are not clear about—how to respect themselves and others while getting their needs met, for example, and how to get others to do the same.

Glazier’s documentary is a call to action—for parents. First, schools need to address the sexual harassment in their anti-bullying curriculum (mothers, contact your local school administrators and let them hear you roar). Second, we need to help our daughters understand who they are, and how to apply character and respect within this sexually charged culture. 

Teens today believe they’re different from us when we were teenagers. Yes and no. The challenges shown in the documentary—struggling with identity, lacking character, saying no, standing up for oneself, setting boundaries—are the same ones we faced in adolescence. They’re just exacerbated by the sexually charged teen culture. 

Wouldn’t we have made better choices if we’d understood that meeting our own needs engenders self-respect? Teens can’t make good choices without the self-knowledge and self-respect to do so. How can we mothers help? First, educate your teen about her needs. A big part of self-respect is knowing what our needs are, learning to recognize what it feels like to get them met, and using that self-knowledge to make deliberate choices to meet them.

As the film titled ‘Pursuit of Popularity’ makes clear, teens are confused about how to get their needs met while respecting themselves. An age-old adolescent mistake is to use sex to get love. A newer version, it seems, is using sex to get popularity. Does she know that she’s interesting without sex?

Beliefs influence actions. Does your daughter believe getting attention by being “hot,” and willing to do sexually for a guy trumps being liked for who she is? Does she know what to do if she’s interested in a guy? If we don’t tell her, who will? Explain to her that she should be getting to know him, and to like his traits, and be able to accept how he gets his needs met from her—before getting seriously involved.

What makes a girl strong? Taking care of herself—meeting her own needs—is an act of self-respect. By looking at her traits, at what she likes and how she communicates with others, she’ll get to know herself better. To really be familiar with ourselves, we must know what our best and worst traits are. Say you asked her to describe herself—would she list the same traits you would? Probably not. How to help her? Let her know when you see her being dependable, demanding, a good listener, funny, happy, sensitive, thoughtful, selfish. . .

You can also educate your daughter about how to get her needs met using character—to say what she means, do what she says, know right from wrong. The film ‘Under Pressure’ about sexual gossip shows how confused teens can be about how to get their needs met while respecting others. Teens make up stories—so-and-so is pregnant, getting an abortion, has already had sex with four guys. Why?—to meet their need to be interesting. Without the sexual gossip, they don’t feel that others are curious about who they are or what they think.

A girl who makes up stories to be interesting, to be more popular, lacks character because she’s compromising her sense of right and wrong. In exactly the same way you guide her to become familiar with herself, guide her to do the same with others. Suggest she ask her friends get-to-know-them questions, or what-they-think-and-feel questions. She’ll probably find that they reciprocate. And that they find her interesting, after all. 

 If we want our daughters to be competent in relationships, we need to talk to them about what makes for a healthy relationship. In a healthy relationship, her needs would be met, there would be heart-to-heart conversations, and the respect—self-respect, respect for others, and the expectation to be treated respectfully—would be mutual.

Talk to your daughter about healthy relationships—it’s important. Help her understand the difference between a Frog and a Prince. Give her healthy relationship criteria to make better choices amid the cultural pressure Glazier’s documentary reveals. Healthy relationship criteria will help her understand her own experiences and those of her peers. They’ll help her learn and grow—and make better choices next time. When they know better, they’ll do better—it’s that simple.

 Kaycee Jane is the author of Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends (Amazon). Jane blogs at www.frogorprince.ca. When life with your teen seems overwhelming, try www.TeenCentral.net ’s Parent section and get help from a professional.

 PS: The TV broadcast “Wired for Sex” was a short version of  “IT’S A TEEN’S WORLD: wired for sex, lies and power trips”.  An enhanced DVD is available for purchase at  www.itsateensworld.com

Teens and Sex. (When? And With Whom?)

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Teens and Sex.

(When? And With Whom?) 

As mothers, we worry about when our daughters will choose to have sex. Why? Because when a teenaged girl gets a boyfriend, sex is probably not far behind.

Schools and parents both tend to educate young women in the mechanics of sex, contraception, and health issues—but, as Bugs Bunny said, “That’s all, folks!” But isn’t that putting the cart before the horse? Isn’t the bigger issue who she has sex with, not when?

With my own daughter, my approach was to educate her in the difference between a frog and a prince. I wanted her to raise her bar for who her first real boyfriend would be. 

Two 14-year-olds who believed they were ready to have sex in their relationship were recently on Oprah. They assessed the risks of sex, but used the criterion of love (and the few needs they knew they had) to make their choices within a peer culture that celebrates sex.

While both guest expert Dr. Laura Berman and Gayle King acknowledged that the two teens were indeed in love (ahem), a pointed question by Dr. Berman revealed that the couple’s immediate reward after sex would have been short-term happiness. Her question was how long they expected their relationship to last. The girl said, “Forever.” The boy said, “Six months.” Once the girl understood they didn’t share the same storyline for their relationship, she made a new choice. She chose not to have sex with him.

Young people don’t know how to build a healthy loving relationship. How could they? They enter relationships expecting only a few of their needs to be met—to notice their boyfriend (be attracted to him), to desire him, to be interested in every little thing about him, to please him. But what about her other needs—to be forgiven, accepted, understood, supported, and so on? Young people aren’t taught how to ask questions designed to find out what each is shopping for in a relationship, like “How long do you expect our relationship will last?”

It’s important to get our needs met in a relationship, so it’s important that we speak to our daughters within the context of needs.  Start by clearing up this crazy little idea called “love.” Explain to her that when a guy tells her he loves her, those are just words—unless she can see that he’s actively, deliberately trying to meet her needs, not just his own. While you’re at it, tell her that “love is never enough,” unless she’s in a healthy relationship.

How can she tell if the relationship is healthy? In a healthy relationship, needs are met such as to become familiar with the other (knowing if he has character, for example) to happily accept how he treats her, to value him (being able to tell him what she thinks and feels about herself). And she has to be able to expect to get those same needs met in return.  

Educating youth about the negative consequences of sex is good because teaching them to meet their own needs and keep themselves healthy and safe engenders self-respect. So why aren’t we also teaching them about healthy relationship criteria? All girls, regardless of what love story they are pursuing—boyfriends and abstinence, or boyfriends and sex, or random hook-ups—must learn what needs they deserve to get met; to make better choices about who to have sex with (and who to marry).

We have to do something because teenagers are not invincible. The consequence to teens of dating and having sex in unhealthy relationships is emotional trauma—getting swallowed up by their wants, feelings, experiences, and broken hearts.

Typically, teenagers care more about conforming to cultural norms and what their friends think than about what their parents think. Can we influence a daughter’s sexual behavior by talking to her about our beliefs for when she should have sex? Absolutely. Google Dr. Miriam Kaufman co-author of the report, “Sex and sexual health: A survey of Canadian youth and mothers.” She says it’s possible. The positive consequence of talking about sex in relationships is that we are indeed able to influence our daughters’ choices when sex does come up. In contrast, the consequence of not talking is pretty much a slam dunk: she could become an unfortunate Canadian sexual health statistic (at www.sexualityandu.ca). When life with your teen seems overwhelming, try www.TeenCentral.Net’s Parent section and get help from a professional.

Doctors advise us to talk with our teenagers not only about our beliefs for when they should have sex, but also about what a healthy relationship is, and how to have an orgasm. A recent teen survey done by York University reported that youth want to learn about healthy relationships, HIV/AIDS, and sexual pleasure.

So we’ve got doctors and teens themselves calling for information on healthy relationships and sexual pleasure. What to do? We can help teenagers use the criteria of met or unmet needs to find out more about who they are and what they need.

That’s why I wrote Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends for my own daughter. If your daughter knows herself and loves herself, she’ll choose what’s good for her and she’ll know when she’s ready to have sex. More importantly, if she’s used to getting “great relationship material” in conversations with you, she’ll be able to make informed choices when sex does come up—choices that include her feelings, needs and beliefs. And that help her decide not only when to have sex, but—even more importantly—who to have it with.

The elephant in the classroom – back-to-school essentialsTeen Dating and Sex—a mother's point of view. What's yours?

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

The Web overflows with parent bloggers sharing struggles, information and tips for raising babies, toddlers and pre-tweens. But what about the elephant in the room—teen dating? It’s more complicated to deal with than bed wetting, and it involves far more serious consequences. Why aren’t we talking about it? As our daughters embark upon (or return to) the dangerous and crazy world of high school, we need to educate them in the mechanics of a relationship.

I was diligent in sending my daughter off to kindergarten with basic skills—the ABC’s, friendship and manners. I also sent her to high school each year with what I thought were all the back-to-school essentials. But in reality I was a better parent to her in kindergarten than in high-school because of the elephant in the room. I wasn’t ready to acknowledge it, talk about it. We had a rule: No boyfriends.

What was I thinking?

Many teenagers start dating in high school. Many have sex. Whoa! Having “teenagers” and “sex” in the same sentence freaks us out. Consider this, though: how you deal with dating in the early stages will determine how she handles the sex part when it comes up in her life. That’s why it’s so important that you and your teenager have good conversations.

I asked Dr. Julius Licata from TeenCentral.Net if he could give parents some advice for when their teenager goes back to high school. “Always remember that your teen does not need you to be their friend,” he said. “As a parent, try to be open to the newness of your teen each day. They are learning who they are; be interested and listen. Try not to ask a million questions. Practice listening to not only what they’re saying but also what they’re feeling. They need limits set, and when they cross those limits they need to be held accountable. Give them space, but try to be close by for when they need someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on. Support your teen but try hard not to control them. Most importantly, let your teen know you’re not perfect, that you make mistakes. Be the parent of a teen today so that you’ll grow into the friend of an adult tomorrow.” When life with your teen seems overwhelming, try www.TeenCentral.Net’s Parent section and get help from a professional.

Your teenager’s heading back to high school—what to do? Make sure that your daughter has more criteria for making relationship choices than her feelings, the sex education she gets in school, and beliefs like “love is enough.” Believing things like “all is fair in love and war” makes it easy to excuse a guy’s bad behaviour. Such beliefs propagate unconditional love, which is a love story between a mother and child, not between a girl and a guy.

Talk to your daughter about the difference between a Frog’s traits (jealousy and controlling behaviour) and a Prince’s (trust and support). Use teachable moments—point out behaviour such as invalidation or unfounded criticism when it occurs in your own conversations with her. Tell your daughter that a Prince will use character to get his needs met—he will say what he means, do what he says, know right from wrong. A Frog uses controlling behaviour, making up the rules—“Pick up the phone when I call, no matter what”—to get his needs met. For more information about recognizing and dealing with controlling behaviour go to www.loveisnotabuse.com.

If we can’t build a healthy relationship with our daughters, it’ll be hard for them to build healthy relationships with their boyfriends. Dr. Brian Harris, a child psychiatrist, says, “The groundwork for a parent and a child to be able to have great conversations must be laid well before teenage issues surface.”

When was the last time you had a heart-to-heart with your teenager? Why do we stop learning and growing together with a child once she becomes a teenager? Sure, it’s difficult to listen—to avoid launching into a lecture. But listen we must—that’s how we stay familiar with who our child is. Second, our daughters confuse a limit with control and frankly, in our dealings with them, so do we. Lastly, they don’t understand the difference between a want and a need. How could they?

The elephant in the classroom doesn’t have to be an unmentionable beast. Your daughter needs information and tools to make choices that include her feelings, needs and beliefs. That’s why I wrote Frog or Prince: The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends. Our daughters will date. One day they’ll have sex. Let’s make sure they’re not doing so in an unhealthy relationship—with a Frog! A big part of a beautiful life—which we all want for our daughters—comes from knowing the difference between a Prince and a Frog.

Does your boyfriend love you?

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Pick a daisy. Pull off the first petal: “He loves me.” And the next: “He loves me not.” Repeat until you get to the last petal to find out whether your boyfriend loves you or not. Sound crazy? No crazier than other stuff women do, like looking for “signs” that he loves you—he looks you in the eye, or tells you he loves you multiple times every day, or says he’s willing to die for you.

Meghan’s trying to figure out if Luke loves her or not. She meets Natalie, her best friend, at Caffè Artigiano to talk about it.
Natalie: Hey, what’s up?
Meghan: Luke. I know, it’s early …but still. It feels like we’re meant to be together.
Natalie: You said that about Michael, and we all know what happened with that relationship. Is Luke meeting your emotional needs?
Meghan: I forget what those are again—remind me.
Natalie: Four of them: familiar, accepted, valued, forgiven. Come on, Meg! Emotional needs are really important.
Meghan: Familiar. . .
Natalie: Does Luke know you? Say I asked him to describe you—what would he say?
Meghan: I dunno. (Laughs) But I know what I’d say… he’s dark-haired and intense and knows how to make me laugh and treats me great and …
Natalie: Great? Is he critical of you? Is he always trying to change the way you do things?
Meghan: No, not at all. So he’s meeting my need to be accepted, right?
Natalie: Right. Now, does he bring stuff up about things you did that you said you were sorry for?
Meghan: No. So he’s meeting my need to be forgiven, right? What about valued?
Natalie: When you ask Luke questions, does he say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t want to talk about it right now”? If he does that a lot, he isn’t valuing you.
Meghan: He does that a lot—he doesn’t like to talk much. But he’s amazing. You don’t know him like I do.
Natalie: Meg, if a guy doesn’t meet all your emotional needs, you have to stop thinking about whether he loves you or not—he doesn’t.
Meghan: But there are four categories of needs, right? Let’s see—emotional, physical, intellectual and lifestyle. What about my intellectual needs? Luke finds me incredibly interesting—I mean, he’s curious about every little thing I do.
Natalie: Yeah, but what about your lifestyle need to feel important? He doesn’t even pick up your calls or text you back when he’s with his friends. What’s up with that?
Meghan: He calls me everyday, Nat. Guys can be a little thoughtless sometimes. Your point?
Natalie: Here’s the thing. Basically those three little words—“I love you”—are pretty useless if you can’t answer yes to “Is he familiar with me, and am I accepted, forgiven, and valued?”
Meghan: Well, it’s still early days with Luke.
Natalie: That’s my point. So stop making choices like you’re going to be together forever.