Will you be my sweetheart? Check ‘yes’ or ‘no’

Sam Smith, Taylor Swift, and Ariana Grande are popular music artist. There songs are generally catchy, about a love interest or breakup, or have some sort of carpe diem theme about life. Sam Smith won a Grammy for his song “Stay with me,” Taylor Swift sings a vow to “never get back together” with a boyfriend, Ariana Grande sings that she has “one less problem without you.” Most of these songs are sung by teens and pre-teens, making one wonder- where the heck does one learn how to be in a romantic relationship?


Most teens have very little information on how to begin a relationship, let alone sing a break-up song (Agbo-Quay, Sena & Robertson, 2010). Hours and hours of schooling is spent teaching youth math, science, social studies, and English and neglect educating on how to have healthy romantic relationships. According to the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education by ages 12-15, depending on cultural norms and guardian consent, youth begin to date and can distinguish dating norms as early as junior high (SIECUS 2004). When young people do not learn aspects of healthy relationships, what’s predictable is teen dating violence (2010). “Approximately one in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner” (Davis, 2008, p.7). Teaching our youth the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationship using a variety of learning styles will decrease teen dating violence.

A great tool to teaching healthy romantic relationships is non-sexual role-play. Role-plays are “acting out assigned roles. There is no script as in a play, but participants are not free to act in any way they wish” (Gilbert, Sawyer & McNeil, 2015, p.192) Role-plays allow for practice of social situations that may be uncomfortable or difficult in a safe environment (2015). The following is a comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to have an effective role-play on healthy romantic relationships amongst teens:

  1. Role-plays are not an activity you want to role out on the first day with students. You want your students to trust you. Role-plays are great after you have given much information about the subject matter through discussion and former classroom lessons (Hedpeth & Helmich 1996).
  2. Make sure your students are familiar with various emotions. This may seem obvious, but it is very important that in a role-play various emotions are expressed, such that the activity reflects real –life situations (1996). Students practicing as close to their reality is best.
  3. Not sure how to write a role- play for young people? Great! Have them write their own! This is a great way for the instructor to see real-life examples of relationship norms with their students. Some examples of role-play topics are asking someone out, negotiation, relationship arguments, and break-up conversations.
  4. Do you have shy students? Are they not sure they want to participate? Show a role-play video by other teens or act one out with a volunteer to excite your students to the idea of participating (1996). Here is an example of a role-play skit put on buy teens about how not to ask someone out.
  5. When assigning roles, make sure everyone is clear as to what they are to do and reveal to the audience who is playing what role. Letting your students know who is playing which character allows for a seamless discussion after the role-play. Discussion is paramount in a role-play and a role-play on romantic relationships is sure to incite many emotions (1996)
  6. Observers of the role-play can complete a questionnaire while they watch, such that they have noted what they have seen and can engage in the follow-up discussion not relying on their memory. Examples of questions on the observing questionnaire would be: How might you respond differently if you were one of the characters? What emotions were displayed? What worked about what happened? What didn’t work? Etc.

Romantic relationships look different for every person. Rather than leaving students to gain all of their relationship advice from magazine columns, pop-songs, and Oprah (is that just me?) it is time to take on a tool to support young people in learning how to have healthy romantic relationships. In the end, role-playing romantic relationships will have your learners singing, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”



Agbo-Quaye, Sena, and Toby Robertson. “The motorway to adulthood: music preference as the sex and relationships roadmap.” Sex Education 10, no. 4 (November 2010): 359-371. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 18, 2015)

Davis, Antoinette, MPH. (September 2008). Interpersonal and Physical Dating Violence among Teens. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus

Gilbert, G., Sawyer, R., & Beth McNeil, E. (2015). Health education: Creating strategies for school and community health (4th ed.). Burlintong, MA.: Jones and Bartlett

Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Kindergarten – 12th grade (3rd ed.). (2004). New York, N.Y.: SIECUS

Hedgepeth, E., & Helmich, J. (1996). Teaching about sexuality and HIV: Principles and methods for effective education. New York: New York University Press

International Business, T. (2008, October). New York City to Mandate Sex Education in Public Schools. International Business Times






6 responses to “Will you be my sweetheart? Check ‘yes’ or ‘no’

  1. Second teen blog I’ve seen using cites and I think that it’s a good thing too. I guess this is just the schooling in me that can appreciate your use of cites

  2. Your post puts forth a very important topic, especially today when there is such an overload of media and popular culture. Teens take on roles from media, it seems, without necessarily fully processing the implications of their behaviors. In intimate relationships, the consequences of mimicking what teens see in media can be much more salient. Role plays are an excellent idea and I appreciate you putting this forth and giving clear directions on how to *effectively* put forth a role play so that it does more good than harm. This technique should be especially useful for this age group since they are already experimenting with there social roles and trying to figure out who they are. Kudos!

  3. I think you have some really great ideas here! A couple thoughts/questions popped up for me when I was reading.
    Recently in a classroom discussion I was involved in a discussion about the effectiveness of role playing with intellectually/developmentally disabled adults. You had said that it is important for students to be familiar with various emotions to make the role play more real. But for some students this could be difficult. I wonder how a sexuality educator could tailor role playing to an audience with IDD members? Maybe it would be good to have an alternative exercise for students who would have trouble with the role play, maybe something that the extremely shy students would also opt for? Just a thought!

  4. So often it seems like relationships are left out of sex education in favor of the “nitty gritty” about STIs, pregnancy, and (to a certain extent) anatomy. But really, it seems that if we are to start sex education in junior high (when it seems like students are really starting to form their ideas of what relationships look like), it would appear to be more important to teach students about relationships than STIs (not that both shouldn’t be addressed).
    I agree with previous posters that the media makes it very hard for young people to learn what a good relationship looks like. Just about every romantic comedy I’ve seen (admittedly, pretty few) chronicles a huge misunderstanding that could have been easily remedied through open and honest communication. This is a lesson young people simply aren’t getting. Before reading this, I never made the connection between lack of information on relationships and partner violence, but it certainly follows. We don’t live in a fantasy world where women can leave a relationship for a miscommunication and expect to be won back in a huge romantic gesture (like we see in the movies). As we all know, the reality can be much more grim.
    After reading this it’s almost embarrassing to admit that I never thought about teaching about creating healthy relationships as part of a sex ed class, but moving forward I certainly will.

  5. I balled up my fist and put it up in the air as I started reading your post. I was like, “YAASS!! What DO teens know about romantic relationships?” (It brought back some high school memories.) This is seriously such a great topic because as we have learned in our HSED 643 class about developmental stages, youth are all about their relationships and connections with their peers.

    I loved your suggestions on how to approach teaching healthy relationships through role playing. Teens being able to write their own skits is so great, because it gets them involved in their own learning. I was also thinking that it would be therapeutic, if some teens chose to write skits about things they went through as a way to reflect and let go of past pain. So these skits can serve more than one purpose.

    I think that these skits are great for teens but I think they’d have an even greater impact on LGBTQIA youths. Since they REALLY don’t have an idea how to have romantic relationships since they are so invisible in the media.

    • gatrujillo- you make a very interesting point about skits and LGBTQIA teens. We are increasingly seeing more inclusion in the media, but portrayal of LGBTQIA relationships may be as poor and unhealthy as portrayal of heterosexual relationships. Another issue for these teens is what is modeled in real life. Heterosexual relationships are modeled all around them, but their kind of relationships are not. Skits will allow them to experiment with different ways of relating, and to receive feedback in a sensitive and safe environment.

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