My daughter often gives me an update on the social goings-on in her class. Last week she said, “Did I tell you that Allie broke up with Carter?” She went on to say, “They’d been dating for like six months, but she said she didn’t want a boyfriend right now. So she’s not going to date anyone else for a while.” The kicker? Everyone in this story is eleven. Eleven, people. Eleven and trying to figure out the dynamics of a months-long exclusive middle school relationship and using words like “dating” to describe them. It leaves me speechless, to be honest.
The middle school years are a time of major transition for kids as nature forces them along the path toward adulthood. It’s not like we, as parents, can prevent their sudden interest in the opposite sex because, well–hormones and whatnot. But allowing that to transition quickly into dating in middle school and developing a serious romantic attachment has its pitfalls. At this tender age, your child barely knows who she is and lacks the judgment to make good decisions about such a relationship. Before you allow or celebrate your middle-schooler’s boyfriend or girlfriend, consider these pros and cons of middle school romance.
Pro #1 of Dating in Middle School:
Finding out that a boy likes you makes you feel pretty and popular boosting your preteen self-esteem.
Con #1 of Dating in Middle School:
Finding out 11.4 days later that he is “so over you” destroys your self-esteem, affirming all of your middle-schooler suspicions that you are unattractive, awkward, and that no one really likes you.
For every upside to middle school romance, there’s a pretty harsh downside. Rejection is hard at any age but especially so at a stage when you feel physically, emotionally, and socially vulnerable.
Pro #2 of Dating in Middle School:
Spending time with a boyfriend or girlfriend is fun.
Con #2 of Dating in Middle School:
Spending lots of time with a boyfriend or girlfriend takes you away from your friends.
At this age, kids need good friends. But kids caught up in middle school romance miss out on great platonic relationships. Sometimes they break up with a romantic attachment to find that while they were all dreamy-eyed and in love, their other friendships cooled for lack of attention, leaving them “lost” in the social landscape.
Pro #3 of Dating in Middle School:
Having a girlfriend makes you feel older and cooler.
Con #3 of Dating in Middle School:
Feeling older and more mature than you really are can lead to choices and responsibilities you’re not ready for.
Middle schoolers are naturally interested in sex and all things related, because their bodies are in hormonal overdrive. Having lots of one-on-one time with a romantic interest can open the door to experimentation neither kid is ready for. Even worse, it seems that the earlier physical relationships start for a teen, the more progressed they are by the high school years. Why let the genie out of the bottle any earlier than necessary?
Pro #4 of Dating in Middle School:
Being known as “Steven’s girlfriend” gives a 12-year-old girl a sense of identity and a place in the crowd.
Con #4 of Dating in Middle School:
Thinking of yourself in the context of who you are in a relationship before you know who you are by yourself is dangerous.
We all knew that girl or guy in high school who’d always had a girlfriend or boyfriend…until they didn’t. And when they suddenly didn’t, they had no idea how to just be. They were constantly scrambling to get back together with the old flame or rushing head-first into yet another romantic relationship. It goes without saying that this is a dangerous mindset, and can lead to a lifetime of jumping quickly (or staying too long) in relationships that aren’t healthy. Give your child a chance to become more comfortable and mature in his or her own skin, without the need to be identified in any other way.
When will you let your child start dating? What are the pros and cons of dating in middle school?
Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.