When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"You can't be looking at these hoes": An 8th Grade Relationship Contract

There was an article in our local newspaper this morning about a relationship contract drafted by an 8th grade girl and signed by an 8th grade boy, the written copy of which had been found on the floor of a classroom and then tweeted by Twitter user Max Linsky. Among the nine "terms and conditions" included in the contract were these clearly worded particulars:

"You can't talk hoes."
"You can't hug these hoes."
"You can't be looking at these hoes."
"You can't break my heart because if you break my heart I will break your face."

The contract went viral on the internet earlier in June. This morning's article suggested that the document was written by a "super smart" and "confident" girl "who knows exactly what she wants", and that while the conditions are "comical and arguably extreme", they actually provide lessons for adult couples about important relationship issues such as respect, conflict, and communication.

I might be missing something (does the word "hoes" mean something different now than it did when I was a teenager?), but I don't find anything comical or especially enlightening about any of the terms set out by this young woman for her prospective partner. Her confidence seems to come from putting other young women down, and from positioning herself as having complete control in the relationship with the young man.

I don't have teenaged daughters to talk to about relationships, but if I did, I would tell them the exact same things I've been telling my teenaged sons: it is never okay to call someone a ho, or to threaten violence, even jokingly, when someone has a different opinion or feeling than they do. As a parent, I'm disappointed that a contract such as this one would go viral because people find it comical. I'm assuming that the "hoes" the 8th grader is referring to are her fellow female schoolmates -- how does the use of such a derogatory term by a young woman make people see her as strong and smart? What reaction would we have if a young man were to use the same term? Is the threat of breaking someone's face as retribution for heartbreak okay when it's uttered by a girl?

Recent distressing news events like the Stanford assault case and the Orlando shootings have made parents keenly aware that there are important, ongoing conversations we need to have with all of our children about respect for other human beings. We should want both our boys and our girls to understand that name-calling and threats of physical injury are not acceptable. Sharing a contract like this one, or any other offensive words or images, over and over again on social media because it's "funny" sends everyone the wrong message.

If my sons decide to date one day, would I like them to be in relationships with strong, smart, confident young women who know exactly what they want? Absolutely. I just hope that their girlfriends' confidence comes not from insulting other young women or thinking they have a right to break a boy's face, but from having a healthy, positive sense of self and knowing how to communicate their feelings and needs intelligently and respectfully. I want my boys to be treated with the same consideration with which I expect them to treat others.

If we want to widely circulate a lesson about relationships in the media, let's make it this one: there should be no double standard when it comes to courtesy in human interactions. Let's hold all of our young people, boys and girls, to the same high standards of kindness.

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