Spring Fever

Jason and Amanda are in love and plan to get married.  They like to hug, hold hands, and gaze into each other’s eyes.  They make a cute couple – especially since they’re both 5 years old.

When I tell my 8th graders that adults view their relationships in much the same light as 8th graders would view Jason and Amanda, they get very offended.  At the ripe old age of 14, they feel they are mature enough to handle “real” love and relationships.

For some, it’s because their parents encouraged them to date when they were in 5th or 6th grade.  They thought it was cute to drive them to a movie, or out for pizza.  It is cute when they’re in the first flush of romance, but there’s nothing cute about the emotional devastation left behind after a breakup.  At 11 or 12 – or even at 14 – their emotions are all over the place as it is.  Their self-esteem bounces from high to low, and many times relationships become hotbeds of drama, insecurity, and possessiveness.

The junior high brain doesn’t help much (yes, there is such a thing).  Studies show that the back part of the brain, where ideas and impulses form, is way ahead of the front part of the brain, which is where reason and caution live.  So the voice that says, “You know what would be cool/hilarious/freakin’ awesome?” is much louder than the voice that says “You could get hurt/pregnant/grounded/dead.”  This can cause a teen to quickly progress from the thrill of holding hands and touching lips to – well, to bigger thrills – without any thought to the risks involved.

Dating – and breaking up – as a young teen can lead to all kinds of complications such as abusive relationships, sexual experimentation, isolation, guilt, depression, loss of friendships, and lower grades.  Even the simpler, less complicated relationships eventually end in a broken heart and a huge amount of self-doubt.

Young teens will always have crushes.  Boys will dream about being seen with certain girls; girls will write their first names with the boys’ last names to see how it looks.  And kids will pair off – today it’s called “going out.”    But that doesn’t mean they actually need to be going anywhere together.

Parents can help by setting some dating guidelines early, like “You can go out with a group but not on an actual date until you’re 16.”  Parents can also avoid the temptation to make too much of the relationship.  Don’t encourage the exchange of personalized jewelry, for example, or spend too much time asking about the “girlfriend” or “boyfriend.”  If your teen does get involved in a relationship in junior high, be casual about it.  Trying to prevent these things usually only makes them more attractive.  Pushing too hard to make them look like high school relationships puts undue pressure on the teens and can lead to disastrous consequences.

Take the middle road, sort of an “Oh, that’s nice” approach.   Ask a question or two, then let it go.  Be available if advice is needed, but don’t offer ideas like taking her flowers or inviting him to her birthday party.  Above all, don’t encourage them to go out on a date.  Hold on to this thought:  if they’re kissing and holding hands and so on in 8th grade – what will they be doing in 11th grade?

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7 Comments

  1. AMEN! I can’t believe how many parents think that ‘going out’ in elementary or middle school is cute and encourages it! Thank you for speaking the truth on this matter and giving parents good reason for holding our ground, as well as good insight into how to handle it.

  2. my mother didn’t think it was a good idea to have boyfreinds in 6th grade, but i had already had numerous ones by then. Now after 31 years of marriage bliss, I do see insecurities in myself, caused by not fitting into the girls frenzy of emotions in middle school. I am thankful that my mother didn’t forbid dating, but used her wisdom in balancing life. During my middle school years, my boyfriend and I could do things like church activities, bike rides, make cookies at my house with mom close by or do things with either family. Dating is such a broad topic, why not encourage life skills or hobbies that kids could do together or group times. I learned more about fish tanks and tropical fish in my 8th grade year from my boyfreind, than any topic in school. I probably rode my bike with my boyfreind 20 miles a week in 7th grade.
    Our boys, now all men, didn’t have the dating need, and hopefully I was a wise mother, and encouraged them to find themselves in activities and persuing life, and the right girl would sweep them off their feet soon enough. God brought our two older guys, perfect helpmates at the right time. Happily married, functioning adults.

    • Ah, Mick – as boy crazy as you were when we were growing up, it would be so much harder today. I’ve heard of so many occasions when junior highers are encouraging – no, make that goading couples to kiss and make out. You might have been under twice as much pressure if you were in a 7th grade relationship now.

      And I’ll vouch for your boys – they’ve turned out marvelously!

  3. My son in in 6th. He has a “Girlfriend”, which consists mainly of lots of texting/messaging and a couple of “group hangs” at her home. I read the communication, and he knows that’s happening. She is bossy, to the point where I would even consider using the word “bully”, constantly looking to be reassured that he “loves” her, threatening to break up because he did not “look at her with love” enough during the day. My gut says this is not healthy and I should change the family rule to no girlfriends until 8th grade. But, I worry that this will break his trust in me, make him feel as if we didn’t trust his decisions, etc. My fear about letting the relationship continue is that she is damaging his self esteem and ruining him for future potentially great relationships because he’ll think that all girls are supposed to treat him like this. He NEVER does any of these things to her, BTW, and is really nice 99% of the time. The 1% is her perception of him not being nice, i.e. not looking at her with love enough. HELP!

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