BY MITCH ROSEN
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPIST
In our culture, it's a big deal to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Of course, each young person develops at their own pace. I've heard of kids as young as 5 or 6 having a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Even though the hormones haven't kicked in and most kids that age strongly believes the opposite sex has cooties, the social pressure to date is enormous.
By the time an adolescent gets into middle school, if they haven't gone out (in my day they called it "going steady") they may be viewed as socially slow or undesirable. What an awful stigma to inherit at 13-years-of age: I've already peaked and it's known by all I am undateable. Yep, I'm 13 and my best years are behind me.
Kinda crazy. If a young boy or girl is in high school if they haven't gone out with at least two or three different people, well, we're talking going to the convent or being that weird kid girls avoid.
The age when kids develop an attraction for the opposite sex is varied. It's on a continuum. I wouldn't say it's unheard of as young as 10. Nor would I say anything is wrong if an adolescent hasn't discovered the opposite sex by the time they're 17. Each child needs permission to figure things out when they're ready and they feel it.
Unfortunately, peer pressure being what it is, most youngsters don't get the luxury of developing when they are ready. Instead, through the media, TV, movies and the social hierarchy of school, the message clearly resonates that being in a relationship is an important milestone.
This put parents in an awkward spot. If they sanction the relationship for their 11-, 12- or 13-year-old they may be giving the message that romance at this age is a good thing. Emotional feelings are a good thing but acting on them takes maturity, guidance and some boundaries. When parents allow their pre-teen or teen kids to bring over their love interests and introduce them to family and friends as "my kid's boyfriend or girlfriend," things can go south pretty quickly.
Some parents describe their kid's significant other as "their little friend." I think this is a contradiction. If a boy or girl has romantic feelings for another I doubt it's best to view them as a "little friend." Little friends can get pregnant, contract STDs -- just because you think they look cute together, that does not negate biology. Even though it may be uncool to set limits on when a kid can date or be alone, it is actually a positive message. The statement acknowledges your child is old enough to have emotional and sexual feelings and has entered the phase where they will be dating and hopefully learning what all of this is about.
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