The headmaster of Ruthin School in Wales recently made the news when he banned romance at his school.
I’d like to think that what Toby Belfield meant to say was that he was banning public displays of affection, but in an email leaked to the media he wrote:
“I STRONGLY disapprove of any boyfriend/girlfriend relationships — and it will ALWAYS affect any university reference I write (meaning any student in a relationship will definitely get a worse reference from me).
“Relationships can start at university, and not at Ruthin School.
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“I will be talking to staff and, as in previous years, I will put together a list of any student with a boyfriend or girlfriend. These students — if in L6 or F5 [Years 11 or 12] can expect to find new schools in September.
“There are plenty of students that wish to attend Ruthin School without the diversion of romance — and these students can replace those students whose focus is on [boyfriend/girlfriend] relationships.
“School is not the place for romantic relationships — ever.”
Clearly Belfield is not a man to mince his words, although he did later soften his stance saying, “Pupils will not be summarily expelled for being in a relationship. They will be given the opportunity to review their current romantic situation, and my belief is that they (and their parents) will put their education first.”
I can understand why he would ban sex on his campus. After all, most work places ban sex on the premises (although probably not explicitly) and it is generally frowned upon to have sex in public spaces like classrooms and rugby fields. But, I struggle to understand why you would want to take a glorious experience like romance away from a teenager.
As a teen I dreamed endlessly about being whisked away into some idealistic love-fuelled fairy tale, and today as the mother of a teenager I see how beneficial that dream could have been if it was a reality.
My son is almost 17 and has been in a loving relationship with his 16-year-old girlfriend for 18 months. They were friends before they became “romantically involved”, they were friends before they become each other’s ballasts.
Being a teenager is hard and navigating these years can be complex. The pre-frontal cortex is still developing and the imbalance in the teenage brain between the cognitive-control system and the limbic system can lead to impulsive and risky behaviour. When this is happening to a whole group of kids at the same time (with added hormonal and social media pressures) things can be hairy to say the least.
I see my son navigating these sometimes treacherous times, and I almost want to staple his girlfriend to his side. I can see how loving someone and having them love you in return can be so grounding, how it can provide an alternative way of thinking in risky situations, how it can provide happiness and stability at a time of angst and uncertainty.
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But it’s not just about that, it’s also about the opportunity it provides for learning from and about relationships while he’s still young enough to make it part of the adult he becomes. The concept of relationships and romance is softened by the fact that he’s happily ensconced in his own love story. Him having a girlfriend makes it simple for us to talk about things like love, consent, respect and understanding; ideas that can be discussed in principle at any time but take on greater meaning within the confines of his relationship. Having a girlfriend has taught him more about relationships and giving and understanding and receiving and communicating than he could ever learn from a textbook.
My son is privileged to be experiencing one of the most wonderful parts of being human at an age where it gets to form part of the person he is. He is at school to learn more than just the curriculum; he is there to learn from life and from the people around him. He’s learning from his relationship and from his girlfriend, and I would choose her over the principal of Ruthin School any day.