(HOST) With spring now upon us, Commentator Cheryl Hanna has been thinking about young love and the challenges some of our teenagers face in finding it.
(HANNA) Perhaps Shakespeare best captured this time of year when he wrote:
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.
And no love seems as sweet as young love, when two innocent souls, still brimming with optimism, pledge their eternal devotion
to each other.
But, alas, these days, most young romances aren’t nearly as sweet as Shakespeare’s poetry promises.
In case you’ve been out of the loop for awhile, dating is nearly dead. Hardly anyone is showing up with flowers or serenading his sweetheart outside a window. Instead, teens are “hooking up.”
And while teens may be delaying intercourse, a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than fifty percent of both boys and girls aged fifteen to nineteen have engaged in oral sex. Teens often refer to these relationships as “friendships with benefits.”
What seems to be happening is that teens are separating physical involvement from close, emotional relationships. Sex is becoming a co-ed sport, while love is becoming passe.
Even worse, many of these relationships can become quite destructive, both emotionally and physically. Another recent study by the Liz Claiborne Foundation found that one in four teens has been a victim of verbal or physical abuse either while “hooking-up” or in a more serious relationship.
That’s not to say all teen relationships are unhealthy, but these studies sure do paint a grim picture.
For parents, as well as talking to your children about these issues, there may be something else you can do to help.
There’s plenty of emerging data to show that children who are involved in single-sex opportunities, like the girl scouts or all-boy language classes, tend to be less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, including casual sexual relationships.
Single-sex environments often break down gender stereo-types, rather than reinforce them. For example, boys are far more likely to write poetry when there aren’t girls around to do it for them, and girls are more likely to climb a mountain when they don’t have to worry about the boys teasing them.
Sadly, in our quest for gender equity, we sometime lose sight of the importance of creating spaces where girls can just be girls, and boys can just be boys, away from the jungle of rating each other, occasionally dating, and, too often, just “hooking-up.”
Single-sex opportunities can build self-esteem, which, in turn, can lead to making better decisions about life, and about love.
So it seems that all those old-fashioned ideas about flowers and birds singing and meeting the parents first may still help today’s young lovers learn how to have the kind of relationship most of us ultimately want: supportive, loving, and lasting for more than just a passing season.
Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton.