Teaching children about relationships can be difficult. Schools teach sex education, but they don’t always cover a subject that is important for every teenager to know: what constitutes a healthy relationship. Teenagers often get their ideas about romantic relationships from the ones they see on TV.
TV and movies are filled with romantic relationships, and many of them are not healthy. One of the worst offenders is the Twilight series. In this collection of books and films, a young woman, Bella, falls in love with a vampire named Edward. Pretty straightforward, except that there are a variety of problems with their relationship. I will start with the subtle and move to the abusive.
1. We know they are in love because it’s all they ever talk about. We never see them have a conversation about a common interest, or the news, or the local sports team, or Star Trek. They just talk about how they love each other. Teenagers should know that healthy relationships are built on common interests. They are about feeling comfortable expressing your opinions, being intellectually challenged, and being able to make decisions together. If all you have is an attraction, then you don’t have much. (This plot device is not unique to Twilight. Even Downton Abbey is guilty of using it for the relationship between Anna and Mr. Bates.)
2. Relationships shouldn’t be obsessive. I understand that when you first fall in love, you feel euphoric and constantly think about the other person. However, breaking into someone’s house to watch her sleep isn’t romantic; it’s a felony.
3. You shouldn’t have to change who you are to be in the relationship. A relationship is only healthy if both members retain their identity. Also, you shouldn’t force someone to make you a vampire, or to do anything, really.
4. Saying to your boyfriend “I will do _____ if you marry me,” is manipulative. Marriage should be an option because you want to be together, not because it’s the only way to get turned into a vampire. It should be on equal terms—not part of a negotiation.
5. If you have to abandon your friends and lie to your dad about what country you’re in, the fact that you are pregnant, or that you are sick and dying because of your boyfriend, then something is very wrong. Run away from him! You should never be told that you have to choose your partner over your family or friends. If your relationship is healthy, it becomes a part of your life, and your partner becomes woven into your fabric of friends and family. If he demands that you extricate yourself from your previous life to be with him, he is abusive.
Your kids have probably seen any number of bad relationships in film and on TV. The question is, what can you show them that is both entertaining and a good example of a relationship? There are no campy public service videos from the ’50s narrated by Zapp Brannigan about the nuances of romantic love. However, there is one show that depicts two people in an equal, loving relationship that any geek worth his salt will want to watch: The Addams Family.
Morticia and Gomez love each other because they are compatible. They have common interests and talk about all sorts of stuff, not just about how much they love each other. They don’t manipulate or alienate each other. There is no passive aggression. They have passion without anger, and they communicate and make decisions together. Each gets along with the other’s extended family. Each looks fondly on the other person’s eccentricities, and they never grow embarrassed of each other. Neither tells the other how to behave. They work together to build something better than what each one is individually, but neither has his/her identity consumed.
So, if you want to instill expectations of a happy, fulfilling, not-creepy relationship, show them The Addams Family. Many of the episodes from the 1960’s TV show are available on YouTube, and the movies can be watched on your streaming site of choice.