There's a new subject government officials and teachers want kids to learn more and talk about -- respect; in particular, respectful, healthy relationships. The government of Ontario launched a campaign in 2006 called Equality Rules, to educate kids about healthy relationships and teach them to recognize and deal with abuse such as sexual harassment, controlling and manipulative behaviour and dating violence, which experts say is prevalent among youth today.
"Early intervention is the key to breaking the cycle of violence," says Donna Hansplant, vice president of counseling services for Kids Help Phone, an organization that has partnered with the government in its efforts, which include a website (equalityrules.ca) as well as TV and cinema ads.
This interactive website is a great tool that has helpful information for parents, teachers and kids, and it's accessible to users across the country. Geared for kids ages eight to 14, the site features cool animated characters in a variety of scenarios that encourage kids to make relationship decisions.
In one such scene, a girl receives repeated and annoying text messages and notes on her locker from a boyfriend. Two of her friends comment on the dilemma -- one says it's sweet he cares so much, while another suggests she should end the relationship because he is trying to control her. Users choose which advice they think is best and then a pop-up screen gives kids more information on why this relationship is unhealthy and how to stand up for yourself.
The site also has quizzes for kids and a list of resources that they can use to get more information on the topic of respectful relationships as well as sources and individuals they can speak to about a problem.
What kids are saying about the issue
The Ontario government asked students at St. Michael's Catholic School in Toronto for feedback on its campaign. "My students were very impressed with the website and they liked the interactive aspect of it and the privacy," says Claudia deCourcy, a grade 7/8 teacher at the school. She adds that students were very comfortable talking about the topic. "There is a strong need for this type of information and the website."
DeCourcy's class also brainstormed about healthy relationships and put together short essays, poems and collages of images that represented happy, respectful relationships. She says kids readily cited respect and dignity as hallmarks of a healthy relationship. They also noted equality in terms of how a relationship functions on a day-to-day basis, such as sharing of duties and responsibilities in a family. "Although many students come from cultures in which the woman is submissive to the man, they know what they want from their own relationships," says deCourcy. "There has clearly been a reculturalization of their expectations."
7 tips to help kids have healthy relationships
DeCourcy and the experts who compiled the content on the equalityrules.ca website offers tips for parents to help their kids have healthy relationships. Here is some advice:
1. Get informed about the challenges and issues kids are facing with friends, schoolmates and boyfriends/girlfriends so that you can talk to them about these things.
2. Learn about the characteristics of healthy, equal relationships and how to talk to your kids about them (see "Dating Abuse," in the March 2007 issue of Canadian Living for more information).
3. Teach your kids that being in healthy relationships -- which means that each individual is treated as an equal -- is a right and it feels great.
4. Introduce your kids to the concept of healthy relationships before they start dating.
5. Be a good role model. This includes demonstrating that girls are just as valuable as boys and considering how you handle your own marriage. If you are a single parent who has had an unhappy marriage, deCourcy says it is important to instill hope in your kids and emphasize that they don't have to follow in the same path as you did.
6. Keep the lines of communication open. Don't make this issue a one-time discussion. The more you talk about equal relationships, the more comfortable your kids will be talking to you.
7. Discuss the attitudes and behaviours that you and your kids see on TV shows, in the movies and computer games.
Kathryn Dorrell is the Family Life editor at Canadian Living Magazine.