Teaching the age group that I do (12-14 year olds), I witness my share of broken hearts and the tears, anger, frustration, and doubt that go with them. There are a lot of similarities between a young girl's heartbreak and a grown woman's. The biggest differences are the girls' lack of experience and the thickness of their skin.
When we watch a young woman struggle with a difficult relationship - whether she's our daughter, our sister, or a student we care about - we offer our best advice, a strong shoulder, and a few tissues. Then we hope that she'll learn and grow from the experience, that maybe the next time around she'll choose a better boyfriend, someone who will show her more respect, or treat her with more kindness.
I really think, though, the best we can do for her, in the long run, is just be there for her. We need to reinforce our belief in her, that she is someone deserving of respect, that she is a person of consequence. If she sees that we believe that of her, she'll believe it of herself and she'll be more likely to kick someone to the curb who isn't treating her well.
One of my students today told me about her weekend. She and her boyfriend have been together for four years. (Can you believe that? She's in eighth grade!) This weekend was their anniversary. He stood her up the whole weekend - didn't show up when he told her he would on Saturday or Sunday. He lied to her about why he didn't come see her. She said he does it all the time. I asked her how she could possibly stay with someone like that and she said, "You don't understand. We've been together for four years." As if that was an acceptable excuse.
I was at a loss. I told her she deserves more respect than that. I told her if she keeps accepting his behavior, he'll keep treating her the same way. But I think it fell on deaf ears. She's a beautiful girl and a good student. She's sweet and kind to other students in the class. She exudes confidence, but obviously, it doesn't run to her core. There's something inside her that makes her believe she isn't worth anything better than what he's giving her.
Yes, she's an eighth grader. Yes, we adults know that these young loves are rarely as significant to our lives as they seem to be at the time. But what concerns me is her willingness to be treated as she is. When will that change? What will have to happen before she realizes she deserves better? That pattern needs to be broken, and now, if you ask me.
Who is going to help her do that? I only have her for an hour a day.