Tween Dating- When our kids start wading into the dating pool.
In some ways, first crushes and school yard romances have changed little over the years. There is still a lot of giggling, girls being egged on by friends, and many unrequited feelings. Jennifer Brammell of Uptown has seen her 10-year-old son targeted by amorous girls—usually during recess—since he was four.
“Harrison would come home from preschool and say, ‘Oh, I’m married to this girl. I’m married to that girl,’” Jennifer says, laughing. “Then once in Pre-K, he came home and said that all of his wives had broken up with him for the summer. He said they all wanted to be the ‘special’ one. And he was shocked. I explained that people do want to be the special one, the only wife.”While Harrison had happily, if somewhat bewilderedly, gone along with the wishes of various girls for several years, in fourth grade he has put a halt to it.
“Now he’s like, ‘I can’t be tied down. I’m going to be a bachelor till seventh grade,’” says Jennifer. If reciprocating a girl’s attention isn’t something he’s interested in, she’s told him that’s fine. She just asks him to, “Please be kind and not hurt anyone’s feelings.”
As Harrison takes some time off from romance, his mom can prepare for middle school. What kids start experiencing there differs significantly from our day.
“I think the biggest change I’m seeing is with technology,” says Nancy Timm, LCSW-BACS, a clinical social worker with Pelts, Kirkhart and Associates. “The first step in young romance used to be talking to somebody. [Now] it might mean texting, or Instagram. A lot of people I’ve talked to have never met the other person in person. They’re asking someone to be their boyfriend or girlfriend without ever laying eyes on each other. And then they’re “going out,” but not really going out. Aubrey developed and nurtured her relationship with her first “real” boyfriend online, though she would also see him in person.
“There was a lot—a lot—of online and texting,” she says. “When you text a boy, you have a lot more courage than in person. Any girl in the world will tell you that.” When they would meet up in person, always accompanied by friends, the two would “sit three feet apart from each other, not make eye contact, and barely say, ‘hi.’” Timm worries about how this “texting” approach to communication affects relationships. “The art of courting, dating, and sort of the lead-up that goes with selecting somebody you’d like to go out with seems to be cut kind of short,” she explains. “It seems to me it used to be a longer window when you’d talk to somebody before going out. And with [technology], there’s a temptation of risky behavior—sexting.”
Aubrey started encountering sexting requests from boys she knew when she was 12. “A lot of guys will do that [asking girls to send topless or naked pictures of themselves] and it’s really bad,” she says. “There’s a lot of pressure. You’re scared that if you don’t do it, you won’t be cool. But then if you do
do it, then you’re scared that it will get everywhere and your life will be ruined.” She adds that if the guy is asking his girlfriend to sext, “there should be big alarms going off in your head to just dump him.”
Another evolution in dating caused by technology is the break-up: often it’s conducted via text. “[People] don’t even have the maturity to email,” says Timm facetiously, longing for the days when at least a phone call was involved. “You just break somebody’s heart with a text that says, ‘Don’t want to go out anymore. It’s been nice.’ That’s a sad message about the state of relationships.”
Aubrey was 13 when her she had her first bad breakup. “That was tough. It just came out of nowhere and it really broke my heart. He just broke up with me out of the blue. I thought we were doing fine,” she explains, the emotion in her voice palpable. “He texted me. He broke up with me with a text.”
*name changed at her request
Leslie Penkunas is the editor of nola baby & family.
Tips for Parents
Nancy Timm shares insight into navigating these early relationship years
1. Many kids feel pressure for physical relations. Some want no part in it, others do. Be prepared.
2. Start a dialogue the very 1st time your child mentions they like someone. Ask what they like about them. ‘Are they being nice? Would they ever ask you to do anything that you don’t want to do?’ It’s never too early to explain boundaries.
3. Don’t tease your child. Not taking early crushes and relationships seriously can drive the relationship underground.
4. Kids tend to post everything. Keep an eye on their social media to stay apprised of their relationships.
5. Pay extra-close attention to your child if you’re going through a divorce and dating again; children often want to be like mom or dad and get that same attention from the opposite sex.