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10 COVER STORY

Stareducate, Sunday 19 February 2012

By ALYCIA LIM educate@thestar.com.my

W

ith television series like 90210 and Gossip Girls winning the hearts of young television viewers, it is no surprise that boy-girl relationships remain on top of the priority list for many teenagers. Next to staying in tune with fashion and having the latest gadgets, what makes a teen socially acceptable and popular among their peers is to have a partner, or at least, have someone interested in them. After all, that is exactly how idols like Naomi Clark and Serena van der Woodsen stay on top of the game. Before blaming the media, however, we need to remember that human beings are not mindless robots without emotions. Most of our great grandparents were married in their teens, and that was before they even had televisions at home. is it wrong then, for teenagers in the 21st century fancying the idea of a bit of romance? Or should the love game wait until they’re out of school?

Faraway love Myra Nabilla, 17, who has been in a relationship for the past seven months met her boyfriend, who is two years her senior, through cocurriculum activities and tuition classes. “We got together last year, and it has been going well for us even though i don’t talk to him on weekdays.” What many do not know is that Myra surrenders her phone and laptop to her parents on weekdays and only gets them back over the weekends. Since her boyfriend is now in college, this means that she can only communicate with him over the weekends. While she may not have liked the idea initially, Myra has gotten used to the practice, as her elder brother had to do the same when he was still in school. “this has been a family practice since i was in Form One and i am used to it by now. After all, i think our parents do this for our benefit. i have even deactivated my Facebook account this year because i want

to stay focused for my SPM examinations.” her mother is also fully aware about the courtship between her and her boyfriend, because she doesn’t see a need to hide it. “i even got her to speak to my boyfriend over the phone because i don’t see a need to hide it if we are not doing anything wrong.” She explains that her boyfriend understands that this is an important year for her academically, and adheres to her house rules on communicating only on weekends. “Of course we meet during school holidays and public holidays, but not every weekend either, as i also spend time with my family.” Similarly, Nazu*, 18, believes that as a student, her studies should always be a priority, and makes sure that everything else comes second. having been in a relationship for almost two years, she has no problems dividing the time she spends on her studies and those she spends with her boyfriend. “We used to be in the same school, but now i have moved to a different school to complete my Form Six. We keep in touch over the phone.” Living in two different states, the couple has only met a handful of times over the past two years but they believe they are in it for the long run. “he has met my parents, and likewise, i have met his. Our parents are fine with the relationship as long as it doesn’t distract us from our studies,” she says, adding that they hope to keep their relationship low-key until they graduate from university. “Many of our friends don’t even know that we are in a relationship because there is no point publicising it,” she adds. A student counsellor at the international School of Kuala Lumpur, Susan Renaud says that a positive relationship can help students feel better about themselves during the awkward developmental stage. “As many high school teens are at the cusp of getting ready to move away from family to attend university, within the protective and observant environment of school,

Stareducate, Sunday 19 February 2012

Young love

Having a partner seems to be the “in” thing these days and it is no different with teenagers who need to have some romance in their lives.

Teenagers are at an impressionable age and often it is the physical appearance of an individual that creates the first spark of attraction. “Students are regularly “spoken to” if they become too physically affectionate, and repeat offenders would have their parents called in for discussions with the principal and student.”

Lost love, lesson learnt

With proper knowledge, support and guidance on a healthy relationship, teens can avoid unwanted consequences which can cause a lot of emotional stress.

Teenage drama is a normal part of growing up, as long as it does not get out of hand.

COVER STORY 11

they get to practise dealing with finding positive ways to be accepted before they leave home.” however, she says that the danger is when a relationship becomes too exclusive, both emotionally and physically. “if the relationship develops into a sexual one before either party is emotionally ready to deal with their sexuality, there would be many unspoken feelings that cloud reality and get in the way of having a normal, healthy environment.” Renaud adds that while the school does not have a rule against dating, the boundaries of public display of affection are limited to hand holding and quick hugs or a peck on the cheek.

While relationships can very much be a positive encouragement for a teenager, it can also be devastating if emotions take over and there is no proper support. Daniel, 24, recalls his secondary school days where he experienced a relationship that turned sour. “i was 16 when i had my first girlfriend, and i guess i didn’t set my priorities right that time. Although we were in the same class, we spent a lot of time chatting in class, and even texted each other non-stop.” Although he thought the relationship would last, it only went on for close to three months. “Because i was spending all my time with her, it felt as if my whole life revolved around her and i neglected my other friends for a while.” it was to no surprise, then, that when they eventually broke up, Daniel had a hard time being in the same class as her. “i skipped classes for about a year and a half, and of course, that affected my grades. thankfully, i was doing quite well academically so my grades only dropped from an A to a B that year.” Working in the corporate world now and holding a steady relationship, he says, “i thought i was matured at that time, but looking back, i really was not ready to commit in a relationship and i did not handle it well.” Although only 15, Pamela* shares a similar experience where relationships are concerned. having experienced her first crush in Year Six, she has since broken up with her second boyfriend and wants to stay out of relationships, at least for now. “i guess having a boyfriend does make you have something to look forward to at school, but i think a large part of why i got into those relationships was because of peer pressure. Looking back, i wonder why i got into the relationship in the first place,” she says. Referring to her first boyfriend in Year Six, she says, “Most of my friends had boyfriends anyway at that time, so it was not uncommon. Of course, we drifted apart during

Studying together is a common practice among teenage couples as they also help each other academically.

I’m sorry: dealing with the ups and downs of a relationship is part of the learning process. the school holidays, and by the time we began secondary school, he became a completely different person. We broke up.” She then got into a relationship with her second boyfriend in Form two, but that didn’t last too long either. “there was one period of time where i would talk to my boyfriend almost every night for about an hour, and i even lied to my mother, telling her i was talking to a friend. She trusted me, and i don’t think she ever found out that i was calling my boyfriend.” Now happy to be single, Pamela says, “i think there is so much unnecessary drama, and i am quite tired of it to be honest, because it’s always the same thing over and over again.” Pamela shares that it is common to want to be in a relationship because it is a chance for teenagers to express their love for another person, and feel accepted. Despite having been a little cheeky, Pamela admits that she sets her boundaries straight.

“it is fair that my parents restrain me from going out with a guy alone because even though i may trust myself, i don’t think i can fully trust the other person and i do not want to put myself in a vulnerable situation,” she says.

Let nature take its course hELP University senior lecturer and counsellor Gerard Louis says that having an interest in the opposite sex during the teenage years is a natural process of development. “Attraction towards the opposite sex is a normal part of growing up. When puberty hits, there will be a natural tendency that teenagers will want to explore. instead of asking them to repress their feelings, we should be allowing them to express it, but with the right understanding and education that they know how to take caution of the dangers involved.” Gerard says that being in a healthy relationship can sometimes give a student a sense of worth and encourage their self-esteem, while preparing them for adulthood.

“Learning some basic skills or relating to the opposite sex is an important part of the growing process as well. When a first love goes wrong and teenagers break up, they have to learn how to deal with it. With proper support from their parents and peers, they learn how to cope, and then they become stronger. it is a learning process.” he says that while parents cannot always be in control of their child’s life, they can inculcate good and culturally sensible values in their children from a young age. Gerard also reminds parents and educators that they should be concerned about teenagers engaging themselves in unhealthy sexual practices. “i think what is important for teachers and parents to provide sex education to young people. Often, because they do not have access to proper sex education, they resort to getting faulty information, either from their peers, or biased internet sources.” As far as academic performance is concerned, Gerard does not believe that relationships are the main cause of falling grades. “in the society we live in, there is certainly a lot of emphasis on education, but let’s not attribute the downside of academic performance solely on relationships as we have to look at the bigger picture. there are so many factors that could affect the academic performance, there is no simple answer.” he explains that disappointment and heartbreak can be healed, and from his experience, many who were at the pit of their misery after a broken relationship have bounced back to be stronger individuals. Retired teacher and parent of two teenage girls, Cheah Paik Yoke says it is common to see couples walking on the school grounds. “Generally, i think it is alright for students to have platonic relation-

ships with their friends. My daughters don’t really feel the need for a boyfriend, but maybe it is because of the way they have been brought up.” Cheah explains that she and her daughters can talk freely about anything. She adds that when her daughters mix around with friends their age, they find that the boys in school are fairly childish in comparison. “the girls are happy as they are, and they do not need that kind of relationship to feel wanted. As a parent, i don’t think they are ready to be seriously dating anyway,” she says. Although her daughters may not be in the dating scene at school, Cheah does not think that being in a boy-girl relationship alone can harm a student’s grades. “it really depends on the student. i have had students who were in relationships in school, and you would see them spending their recess time walking around the school compound “dating”, but when it comes to their studies, they continue to do very well. On the other hand, there are students who generally aren’t as focused in their studies and lack attention at home, so they tend to sway easily because they would be on-line all the time, and busy texting each other.” At the end of the day, both Cheah and Gerard see eye to eye on the issue that it all boils down to the individual and how they set their priorities. Just as Gerard says, “the key is communication. the risk will always be there, and relationships are a natural cause of living. if we repress everything, does it guarantee anything, or makes things worse? We can live with the illusion that we have some control when in fact these children may sneak out and do funny things behind our backs.” * Names have been changed

Young Love  

A feature on teenagers and dating, the cans or can'ts, and an insight into the minds of Gen Y teenagers.

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