A High School Relationships Class

Katie Young
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Wednesday - November 16, 2005
| Del.icio.us

The other night I was out at an event and I ran into colleague and Star-Bulletin columnist John Berger. John always likes to give me the “male” perspective on my column topics.

On this particular evening, he was in excellent form and brought up an idea I think deserves some serious consideration: courses in relationships as part of our required high school curriculum.

Our relationships and our careers are probably the two guiding forces in our lives. School is supposed to prepare us intellectually to find the career most suited to us, but as far as I can remember, there was no course offered in emotional intelligence to help us maneuver through our relationships.


We had guidance class, learned how to eat nicely at a fancy restaurant - which fork was used with which course - things of that sort. And then there’s home economics, which teaches us the basics of fending for ourselves (e.g., sewing buttons, making casseroles, etc.).

But who, besides our parents and grandparents, if we’re lucky, prepares us to handle all the complicated and emotionally trying intricacies of our adult entanglements?

Making it mandatory for schools to offer courses in emotional intelligence would help prepare youths for the “real world” of relationships so they don’t end up in the self-help section of the bookstore 15 years later after multiple failed relationships/marriage(s).

Get to them early, in their formative years in school, in between math and English. Their brains will be fresh and pliable - sponges ready to soak up all the knowledge of how we should treat others and how to fix our relationships when they’re broken. Students might learn:

Parents 101: Handling Parents: How to Assert Your Individuality Without Coming to Blows.

Parents 201: Divorce - How to Deal.

Parents 302: Why Dad Wants to Tell You All his War Stories and Why You Should Listen.

Parents 401: They’ll be Dead Some Day, So Show Them the Appreciation They Deserve Today.

Next would come a series on romantic relationships.

Relationships 101: How to Treat the Ones You Love.

Falling in Love 201: There is no “I” in “W”: The Sins of Selfishness.

Love 301: The Grass is not Greener on the Other Side: How to Commit to a Good Thing.

Love 302: Working Through Your Fears.

Relationships 401: The Wild Hearts of Men - How to Give Him “Space.”

Relationships 402: The Opihi Factor - Why She Clings.

Relationships 501: The Next Step - Marriage is Tough, But So What?

Relationships 601: The End of Days - How to Still Hold Hands When You’re Old and Wrinkled.

There could also be classes on siblings, friends and even how to make the most of your relationships with acquaintances.

The point is that our relationships are fragile and we must nurture them. Instead of fumbling our way through the universe like a blind pig, banging into every wall along the way, we should arm ourselves with as much knowledge as we can about emotional intelligence from an early age.

By the time we reach our late 20s, we already have these patterns ingrained in us, both positive and negative. We think we might want to change, but we don’t know how to change. The task seems daunting and the goal unattainable.

How do we become good partners when all our lives we’ve been taught to be strong individuals? Where is the balance? What the heck do women want and men need?

Author Daniel Goleman wrote a book in 1994 called Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ. Goleman states, “In navigating our lives, it is our fears and envies, our rages and depressions, our worries and anxieties that steer us day to day. Even the most academically brilliant among us are vulnerable to being undone by unruly emotions. The price we pay for emotional literacy is in failed marriages and troubled families, in stunted social and work lives, in deteriorating physical health and mental anguish ...”

Emotional intelligence, according to Goleman, includes the following:

* Self-awareness: knowing your emotions, recognizing feelings as they occur, and discriminating between them.


* Mood management: handling feelings so they’re relevant to the current situation and you react appropriately.

* Self-motivation: “gathering up” your feelings and directing yourself toward a goal, despite self-doubt, inertia and impulsiveness.

* Empathy: recognizing feelings in others and tuning in to their verbal and nonverbal cues.

* Managing relationships: handling interpersonal interaction, conflict resolution and negotiations.

Goleman says the best remedy for battling our emotional shortcomings is preventative medicine. We need to place as much importance on teaching our children the essential skills of emotional intelligence as we do on their GPA.

Understanding the human mind and heart is hard. Some people never learn and grow. They’re middle-aged or older and still trying to figure out why all their relationships fail. They feel it’s too late and they say, “I wish I’d known before what I know today. Things would be different.”

So let’s make things different. Prepare children early on. Arm them with emotional knowledge so they can make informed decisions. But also know that even for an adult, it’s never too late to change and learn a little emotional intelligence of your own. The only difference is, you have to hold “class” for yourself.

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