Popular media outlets have long since capitalized on the forbidden romances between adults and teenagers. Films like “Long Island Lolita,” “Wild Things,” and even the Oscar nominated classic “The Graduate,” have all depicted relationships of this nature for either comedic, or erotic purposes. But, with the surprising number of headlines in recent years detailing students’ affairs with their teachers, many parents are wondering what makes Mr. or Ms. Smith turn into Mr. or Ms. Robinson?
The relationship that often develops between a teacher and a student is a deeply important one. Teachers are mentors. They are meant to reach out to children, to be someone kids can come to with their troubles, and their dreams. That is the mark of a good teacher. But, it’s the fear that this relationship could cross the line that keeps parents worrying.
It’s hard to understand what might persuade a teacher to carry out an affair with a student. But, one has to think about the power distribution in the classroom. Teachers are admired, and often looked up to, and a teacher with a particularly attractive personality is highly sought after by their students. Anybody who has been to high school has probably come into contact with that one teacher, male or female, that all the students talk about and even fantasize about.
And for young people, having a crush on a teacher is a perfectly reasonable piece of adolescent development. And, young men and women exploring their sexuality are sure to push the boundaries with a cute professor. And, nine times out of ten, an innocent flirtation is just that. But, occasionally, the teacher crosses the line. Some people blame it on the media focus on dating amidst huge age gaps. With celebrities marrying each other despite being ten even fifteen years apart, there seems to be more awareness, and even acceptance, of such age discrepancies.
Further, many psychologists blame the personal experiences of the individuals involved in an inappropriate relationship. In a number of the cases where female teachers have had affairs with male students, for example, a woman suffering sexual abuse as a child seems to be a common denominator.
So, what is the answer? Do we need to increase awareness in education programs about the inappropriateness of such relationships? Should we have more intensive psychological screening for potential teachers with these situations in mind? It’s difficult to say.
But, its important to consider the fact that the number of cases in which teachers are actually caught dating students is miniscule compared to the multitudes of children who pass through our public schools each year. While the prospect of a student dating a teacher is frightening for parents, one must consider that the supposed increase in incidents in recent years could be nothing more than greater media awareness to these issues. The bottom line is, one should be aware of what is going on in their students’ lives, and aware of any signs pointing to an inappropriate relationship. They shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to have a good mentor relationship with their teachers. This can be a wonderful experience for a student.