Learning Relationship Skills: Is it the Parent or School’s Responsibility

        I recently posted an entry about Emotional Intelligence because I thought about how it played out in our personal lives.  However, when I attended the conference in Denver recently (see my post Emotional Intelligence = Relationship Success) I had a discussion with a psychologist who specialized in couples counseling and he mentioned the need for teaching relationship skills to children beyond merely the level taught in daycare/pre-school.  He emphasized that a lot of couples face issues not because they do not want to cooperate with each other, they want to have conflict or they do not understand their roles but because many of us are not taught these necessary skills until we are in relationships and even then many of us still have no clue. 

        I always mention to people that my parents (really my mother because my Dad was not in the home) did not teach me how to be a mate, she only admonished about the things I should be aware of and/or to avoid in a relationship (none of which really mattered when I think about it.)  Now that I am in a committed relationship, I realize how much I do not know and am yearning to understand.  Grant it, much of it is trial and error, growth and just life experiences that enlightens us…but much of it is what was or was not learned from young.  In today’s society it is easy to have relationship, either romantic or platonic, and have very little social interaction given the popularity of texting, emailing, social networking and the like.  So highly essential social skills like courtesy, consideration, compassion and respect have almost completely escaped our evolution. 

        How does our lack of relationship skills manifest itself?  Well, it is almost commonplace for men and women to invade the other’s privacy, to ignore explicit boundaries and to outright show a total lack of disregard for another’s feelings, all without any remorse or concern.   For example, I was in a supermarket and walked up on two cashiers discussing going through their boyfriend’s cell phone to read messages and to see the call history.  One of the cashiers was cavalier about her constant invasion by stating that all girlfriends do it, while the other cashier (and me too once I chimed in) emphatically disagreed stating that it was “disrespectful” and “not right”.   Now that is one lesson that my mother did teach me that I hold steadfast to til this day, it is not right to invade anyone’s privacy under no circumstances (unless danger is imminent of course.)  This I learned at a very young age, and have only developed an understanding of how significant it is as I matured.  Or how about the recent incident where a wife had to find out on Facebook that her husband was pursuing a divorce from her, how humiliating for her and socially inept of him.

        I believe that if children are taught in school and at home, then we have a win-win.  Some educators actually do agree that it is their responsibility and do try to implement these valuable lessons into their curriculum or lesson plans.  (Read http://teachers.net/gazette/wordpress/susan-fitzell/relationship-skills-and-our-role-as-teachers-and-parents/ In addition, not only does it reduce bullying in younger children but relationship abuse and violence amongst teens are also diminished, which in essence minimizes the possibility of being in high conflict relationships as adults.  Learning relationship or social skills include learning interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills and conflict resolution, all of which are essential in intimate relationships. 

         Although we are far from seeing relationship skills lesson plans becoming systemic in the school system, we are making strides in that many educators are aware of the need and are making personal and professional choices to incorporate it.  If we want the Black community, Black family and Black relationships to last and to grow, then we must insist that our children learn early on that the world does not revolve around them.

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