One of the biggest challenges of the pandemic response for many of us, especially our school aged children, was the imposition of limitations to our social networks. As our networks, or “bubbles,” became substantially smaller, many of us transitioned into a virtual space to continue these friendships—cue the zoom playdates, dinner parties and book clubs. And while we are lucky to be living in the screen-age for the opportunities to have virtual hangouts, our children’s ability to develop and maintain healthy in-person relationships with people outside our bubbles may require a bit of refresher from time to time.
How can we, as their trusted adults, best set up our children to build new successful, healthy relationships? By having thoughtful dialogue about what healthy relationships look and feel like.
My experiences as a sexual health educator have taught me that students of all ages are eager for the chance to discuss healthy relationships more than any other topic. Whether we’re having chats about friend and family relationships in elementary school, talking about powerful crushes with middle school youth or the more sophisticated romantic and potentially sexual relationships with older youth, youth actively listen, question and soak up all of the relevant information. And although the scope and intensity of these relationships differ with their maturity and life experience, they want tangible examples of healthy relationship qualities.
Through the years, we continue to use and adapt the acronym SHARE2 as one of the most effective ways to personalize healthy relationship qualities. As our youth build new relationships, we want to encourage their relationships to be grounded in Safety, Honesty, Action, Respect, Equity and Enjoyment.
Safety. People feel both emotionally and physically safe inside the relationship. They are each comfortable to set their own boundaries and expect to have those boundaries respected by others.
Honesty. A person in a healthy relationship can openly communicate their thoughts, feelings and expectations with others.
Action. Each of you are actively engaging in building the relationship through the acceptance of boundaries, decisions, values and family rules. This is based in communication and agreement which means you practice consent.
Respect. Your decisions, values, boundaries, and identity are respected and you offer that in return. You also acknowledge needs for privacy, space and independence in a respectful way.
Equity. There is balance in your relationship in the presence of difference. You do not need to be the same as the other people in your relationships. There’s space to share both similarities and differences.
Enjoyment. Our relationships should be enjoyable—they should add to the joy in our lives. We enjoy spending time with the people you are in relationships with but also balance that with time apart.
Although it may seem rudimentary, no matter how often we try to move away from this acronym, our discussions with youth and healthy relationships always lead us back to it because in the words of an astute Grade 8 participant “A healthy relationship means caring is SHARE-ing!”