My question today is the same one I posed in my post yesterday. I didn't get much feedback (where is everyone?), so I thought I'd post it again today under the Aloha Friday meme.
Is it appropriate for a 13 year old to have a boyfriend or girlfriend? and At what age is it appropriate for your child to have a boyfriend or girlfriend?
Here's my two cents on the subject and let me preface it by saying that this is just my opinion but it comes with experience and some knowledge as a parent of two teenagers and a youthworker who has worked with middle school students for eight years.
I remember being flabbergasted when I first started working with middle schoolers and realized that boys and girls were calling each other boyfriends and girlfriends. The concept was not only hard for me to grasp but I had strong feelings that these kids were just too young to be in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. But by hanging out with these kids, I learned some things.
Let me first say this; the preadolescence and adolescent years of a kid today is different than when the parents experienced these same years, no matter what the age of the parents. Children are developing at a younger age than ever before, and this includes hormonal changes. This means there is a natural attraction to the opposite sex at a younger age, most of the time starting in elementary school.
By the time a child turns 13 (or younger), he/she has already been dealing with these attractions for some time. Middle School gives a child the opportunity to be social and experiment a little with the emotions they are feeling. The name of the game in middle school is fitting in, and if most kids are being social with the opposite sex and then having a boyfriend or girlfriend, believe me, that's what your kid will want to do, too.
A middle school student is trying to figure out who they are and where and how they fit in. They don't want to be different. They want to do and be like their friends, or worse - those popular kids. Add to that the fact that they have a natural attraction to those of the opposite sex, and you get boyfriends and girlfriends.
BUT WAIT! ...having a boyfriend or girlfriend doesn't necessarily mean what you think it does. It's been my experience that having a boyfriend or girlfriend is an 'in name only' status for most kids. Of course, there are the exceptions, but most kids don't know what a relationship of that magnitude is supposed to look or feel like. Because of this, and other reasons, most boyfriend-girlfriend combinations don't last more than a week or so. That's because they don't know what they're supposed to do.
As bizarre as this is, it is what life looks like for a middle school student in a public or private school. Obviously, home schooled kids have a different environment. And as much as we, as parents, probably don't approve of this, there are social skills that they are learning through this process. I don't know as much about this aspect, but I'd venture to say that these skills are useful as they go into high school and are thrown deeper into the world of boy-girl relationships and "real" dating.
This has become a lot longer than I could have imagined and I still have more to say; my personal experience with my son when he was 13 and had a girlfriend and what I think parents can and should be doing, no matter what age their kids are. I will continue with these thoughts in tomorrow's post. Please come back to get my full answer to the original question. And thank you for all your comments on this subject. I truly believe we can all learn from each other with an open and respectful conversation.
link of the day: