Wednesday 11 December 2019

Lessons to be learned in ban on school romances

Young love might not prepare pupils for the harsh realities of life, but it is part of growing up, writes Sophie Donaldson

Puppy love: Should romantic relationships be allowed between pupils of co-ed secondary schools? Stock photo: Getty
Puppy love: Should romantic relationships be allowed between pupils of co-ed secondary schools? Stock photo: Getty
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

Last week, principal of Ruthin School in Wales, Toby Belfield, attracted international attention for a leaked email sent to his staff - in which he proclaimed that students at the school in a romantic relationship are in "danger of academically underachieving".

He went on to say he would be compiling a list of students in a relationship (just how he might divine this information, other than lurking at the local cinema, we don't know) and that those on the list could "expect to find new schools in September".

He later clarified that students would not be immediately expelled, rather they would be given the opportunity to "review their current romantic situation" with their parents and hopefully terminate their young love immediately.

According to the UK media, last year he introduced a new set of rules banning students at the boarding school from going to restaurants, ordering takeaway food, smoking or drinking - despite the fact that some students are over the age of 18.

It is not unusual for principals to be aware of how their students might spend time outside of the classroom. Mr Belfield's puritanical approach, however, is both deeply unrealistic and a little unsettling.

While it is natural for any teaching staff to want their students to excel, it is not natural to be incensed by teenagers exploring this basic human desire.

Despite this, I do agree with his sentiment.

Throughout secondary school, I had a boyfriend for about four years. He was kind, generous and cared for me a lot, and I him. But it didn't teach me anything substantial about relationships.

How could it have? I was essentially still a child whose emotional competency was about zero. Now that I'm well into my 20s and have experienced an array of relationships, from overnight flings to being deeply in love, I can say with certainty that very first relationship didn't prepare me in the slightest for what was to come.

Teenagers' brains are far from being emotionally and intellectually developed. This is not to say they should be shielded from romantic relationships until they reach adulthood - and with all those hormones running rampant, good luck to anyone who tries - but there is an infinite amount of ways their time would be better spent than the hours given over to texting their beloved.

I doubt my academic achievement was dented in any way by being in a relationship, but it did mean that I was absent from a lot of bonding sessions with my friends.

I am lucky enough to still be close with that tight-knit group of girls I went to school with, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I haven't spoken to that boyfriend in years.

If we did, I don't doubt we would struggle to find common ground, mostly because my personality has changed considerably over the past 10 years - and thankfully so, among other things because my teenage taste in music was woeful.

Perhaps I'm being sentimental, but surely the best thing about being a teenager is the opportunity it affords you to begin to eke out your sense of self. It's a wondrous time because you have not yet been hit by the realities of the world - mouldy share houses, hideous one-night stands, taxation - and so are free to commit yourself to some soul searching. Part of this might involve some romance, but trying to maintain an adult-like pseudo relationship at this special time seems a bit of a shame.

This is probably difficult for my father to read because he thought along the same lines as Mr Belfield - although his approach was far subtler. I clearly remember him trying to gently dissuade me from committing to a relationship at the expense of missing out on time with my friends. He was right of course, and of course I didn't listen.

But I turned out OK in the end. Mr Belfield might like to consider a gentler approach because his current one is deeply flawed. It seems he has ignored that infallible rule of parenting that states the only things teenagers won't do are those endorsed by an uncool adult.

Thankfully for Mr Belfield, in the eyes of a teenager, principals tend to rate pretty high on the uncool ranking. This puts him in the perfect position to send another email, this time to his students, telling them how "dope" he thinks dating is.

Results, academic or otherwise, are guaranteed.

Sunday Independent

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