As director of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, I sometimes fancy myself a caped crusader saving families one marriage at a time. In reality, I’m no superhero with all the answers. In fact, when I look back at my approach to relationships during the first 2/3 of my life, I laugh about how me ending up as a relationship “expert” is a bit like the kid who continually got C’s in high school math class ending up a college Algebra professor. While a C isn’t bad, the grade clearly leaves room for improvement. Somehow I managed to figure it all out, however, and I am thankful for the luxury of making a living by talking about marriage and relationships all day. I manage the numerous moving parts of a highly complex statewide initiative providing services and supports to couples and individuals, in various life stages and circumstances, in an effort to positively impact outcomes for children. I am proud to know many, many heroes out in the field who dedicate their time to imparting research-based and practical information to those who are struggling to make their relationships work and who often have little hope for the future.
In my opinion, one of the most interesting aspects of the array of services we offer is our work with young people, both high school and college students, who are formulating their ideas about relationships. I love this work for two reasons: 1) I can vividly remember my own struggles with relationships and wish I’d had the tools to better evaluate my choices and emotions, and 2) I believe in the efficacy of intervening early and hopefully helping young people avoid some potentially devastating mistakes.
The benefits of educating young people are balanced by an equal number of challenges. At age 34 (I know, I know, I don’t look a day older than 33), I can remember what I went through at age 16, 18, and 20, but I certainly don’t have the same mindset as I did at those points in my life. Educators must keep in mind research which says the frontal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for reasoning and problem-solving, doesn’t fully develop until well into the 20’s. Our experiences, and the fact that we can look back on what we learned from those experiences, influences our judgments about what young people should and shouldn’t do. However, young people don’t yet have that perspective to aid them in making decisions. This makes connecting with them on issues such as relationships, drinking, drug use, etc., a daunting task. Continue reading Helping Young People Understand the Myths, Risks and Realities of Relationships