Friday, March 7, 2008

the reality of it

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.

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link of the day:
http://www.clubmom.com/go/tweens

16 comments:

acupofjoy said...

What's the hurry? 13 is so young. I'm all for group stuff...buy why get so serious at a such a young age? Easy for me to ask now. I started dating at 14. Not much older than 13. I thought it was wonderful, but looking back now I don't see what all the rush was about. Have friends and leave the dating stuff for a few more years...that's what I say. But, I know that all may change when I have my 13 year old wanting to go out on a date. I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it...ask God for wisdom! :)

Pam in Colorado said...

I do not think it is a good idea. I think that we should choose our children's spouses for them, when they are say - between 25 - 30 years old. Until then they should recognize our wisdom and fully embrace singleness and all they can accomplish while single.

Now, reality sets in and hormones rage, society sets way different examples, older siblings, friends and parents of said friends weigh in with their opinions, thoughts and expectations and they do not always mesh with ours.

I wish for all kids a long lasting, innocent childhood. I also realize that we can not prevent all things. So, I still say 13 is too young. 16 is too young, as you will rarely find a 16 yo ready for marriage or ready to support a family (in totally caring for a home or financially providing).

I think courtship is the best route, group situations a great way to get to know someone without some of the intimacy and temptations.

I have a 19 yo daughter who is married (who did date at 16), An 18 yo boy who is just starting to think that marriage could be a good thing and therefore meeting a nice young lady would be good, but not quite yet, and a 16 1/2 year old boy who started dating at 15, behind our backs because he had an 18 yo girl wanting to go out with him and he knew we did not want him dating yet. He has dated a couple other girls since then (at 16 we said that under certain guidelines he could date) and he has matured a lot while in these "relationships" as the fullness of thrresponsibility is starting to make a huge impression on him. The being accepted by and "liked/loved" by someone is good for all our hearts. It is all the physical stuff and the emotional drama that makes dating dangerous.

He is not dating anyone currently and we all think that is a good thing.

I would love to see my youngest two (7 and 8 yo girls) choose to go the "no dating" route, although my 7 year old told me that eventually they might want to date the person they will marry, so they know that they should marry them. I see some wisdom in this.

In many cultures and in society past, 16 was marriage age and older was "old maid" territory. I don't think much has changed as far as hormones and emotions go, although there seems to be an earlier puberty in some kids now a days. How to keep kids from natural desire until they are mentally mature enough to make good choices with it?!

Good communications, consistant and respectful/responsible boundaries and trust are crucial before they hit puberty, so that when they are in the midst of it all, there is a firm foundations for assisting in good choices and fair natural consequences.

Listen more than you speak, wait before you do respond and try not to over react. I am learning each day that when I do stay quiet, when I do wait and when I do not try to "control" the situation (whatever the case may be about) and wait upon the Lord and allow my child to take ownership for his/her choices, they usually rise to a greater level than I originally thought they would.

pinkjagxj said...

Everyone has their own standards and I say “no”.
My children weren’t allowed to date until they were 16. They had to group or double date until they were 18. When my daughter was 16 she had a “boyfriend” but they couldn’t go anywhere without other people. If they forgot to line up a double they took the younger brothers along. My youngest son loved it because he got a night out with his pal, the other younger brother. Children are growing up soooo fast now days we need to help them stay children and enjoy their age.

The Q Family said...

I don't have a real boyfriend till I was in College. So I will say 13 is way too young. They should just enjoy the company of their friends and enjoy life in general. It's too much drama in a bf/gf relationship.

Jamey said...

I love hearing your opinion and knowing that you have had teenagers and currently work with teenagers. I agree that most of the time boyfriend/girlfriend isn't what we think it is as parents. It can be much more innocent that what we are thinking. And I am assuming that it can also be much more involved if you aren't paying attention. I think the most important thing is to keep the lines of communication open and really listen to your child no matter what the age or subject. REALLY listen. Don't just have your mind set already because you think 13 is way too young...maybe ther girlfriend they want to have us just that a "girl" friend. Like I said before my oldest is only 9 so what do I know:) I am just going to teach him right from wrong and do the best I possibly can by guiding him into the right decision while still trying to give him the independence he needs to make the right decision as well. And Pray a lot!!

Momma Roar said...

I didn't want to leave a comment until I had a chance to read the posts you referenced...and then today, I found myself not even wanting to think about my kids dating...ever!

May I come back in...say, 7 years and answer?!?!

Mary@notbefore7 said...

I am with Momma Roar ;)

I do think 13 is a bit young. I liked a lot of what Pam had to say and hope to communicate the same sort of thing to my children. I have no "age" set on marriage or on love (as I had a friend meet her hubby of 20+ years at age 13), but I would encourage hanging out, group dates, and friendship.

I taught middle school, so I know there were the "innocent" week long things, but I know there was a lot mroe too.

I am hoping to use the passport to purity by family life today to talk about these issues with my kids. I hear it is great!

I'll think about this one more in about 10 years ;)

SharonB said...

I have two boys and neither of them were allowed to group date until 16 single date at 18.

We stressed to our boys that the purpose of dating was to find a mate so until you were ready to marry you shouldn't date.

My boys are now 25 and 21, neither of them dated much. I remember my youngest son taking a girl out at 18 once or twice and then they just became friends. He said she wasn't what he wanted in a wife, so why date her. My oldest got married at 20.

I don't have all the answers or even the right answers. Looking back there are a lot I would do differently.

I think we run the risk of much temptation by allowing children to date before they even understand the purpose of dating. We stressed to both boys that it would be easier to just remain friends, do things as friends and not impose all the stress and temptations of "dating".

I don't know just some thoughts...

MightyMom said...

I don't know....dating really isn't as bad as all that. really. we're talking dating not having sex. And I know way too many girls who didn't date in high school then married the first schmuck who paid them any attention only to be sadly disillusioned later.

Huckdoll said...

My first boyfriend/girlfriend was in 6th grade. The "relationship" consisted of talking on the phone and holding hands a lunch break. My second boyfriend was in 7th grade. The relationship consisted of the same as the above, but he walked me home from school, talked to my parents and was occasionally allowed over in a family space - with my mom watching to do homework or watch TV.

After that, I took at long break from boys and my next boyfriend was at the age of 15. It was more intense, my first kiss, etc. I would probably consider this my first "real" boyfriend. It was a short relationship, about 5 months.

Then I started seeing a guy when I turned 16 who I ending up spending almost 5 years with. I consider him my high school sweetheart. We were planning marriage and a house together. He was like another son to my parents and I was the daughter his parents never had. He was also the boyfriend I lost my virginity to at the age of 16. We lived together for about a year near the end and his mom had our wedding colours picked out. Eventually, I realized that I was much too young and inexperienced to settle down with one person and we broke up.

Finally, I met Baby Daddy and it's been the most intense relationship I've ever had. I never considered him a boyfriend, but more a soul mate. We've been together for over 7 years and we've made it through the worst of lows and the best of highs.

So, you can see that (in my life, at least) even though my first boyfriend was at a really young age, I started out very innocent and progressed throughout the year, gradually.

That said, I don't think 13 is too young to have a boyfriend, but that depends on the circumstances.

If bf and gf are wanting to go to movies and do things in private, make out, etc...then no. I would absolutely forbid it with my girls.

However, if the situation is handled in the same way as my parents handled it, which was letting us talk on the phone and see each other at school, then I would be okay with it.

I think my silly little relationships in grade school helped shape my future relationships.

...And a novel is born :)

Penless Thoughts said...

As you know, Diana, I am far removed from my children being young but I do have the just turned 13 year old granddaughter. She has a new "boyfriend" about every 3 to 10 days!!!! At first when I heard her saying "my boyfriend" I got very upset, but it's just as you so well pointed out it is in name only and their "going together" means talking in the hall, or texting, and mostly discussing with their girlfriends.

As one who began dating early, due to being younger than my class, getting engaged at 15 and married at 16 I am reticent to say much on the subject!!!!

It would be fun if we could work in a book store together. hee hhe
Susan

Charlotte (Charmed Life) said...

13 is too young to date, or to be a girlfriend or a boyfriend. i grew up with a mother who didn't allow us to go out on dates but she lets us entertain suitors only at home, where we can be supervised by her or adults aunts and uncles. this worked out for me and my sister (2-yrs younger). it made her/us feel safe from any untimely, unwanted incidents - like teenage pregnancy or teenage marriage.

kailani said...

I had my first boyfriend at 14, he was 17. At the time I thought I was old enough and didn't understand why my parents were upset. Now I know.

Pam in Colorado said...

Kailani, that is part of the problem. When we are young, we truly believe we understand the depth of such things, but in reality we only have a shallow understanding because there is nothing to compare it to.

We are also still developing reasoning skills and brain maturity, so what seems to be so clear is just a glimpse of what we will better understand later.

Melissa said...

You're right... these kids are maturing faster and faster... is that a good thing? If they start dating at 16 and married at 20 - that's not such a big deal... start dating at 13 and married at 17?? The problem with dating is that the little things like holding hands eventually aren't exciting any more. They progress and experiment more and more. The younger they start dating, the more time you give them to experiment ... JMO

Karen said...

I do love your blog it's so vibrant and inspiring. Thanks for this interesting post! I'm so glad you have put it up here. I first felt an attraction for a boy when I was 9 years old - I know that's very young. I also developed physically quite young as well. When I was 13 I had my first boyfriend. We were together for 9 months, it wasn't 'serious' and we were well chaperoned, basically hand holding and I did have my first kiss with him. I became a Christian at 14 and felt it right to end that relationship. Anyway, I must admit I do get surprised when I hear Christian parents not wanting their children to be in relationships until they are late teens and shocked if the thought crosses their minds in their early teens. I have young children and rather hope they dont' think it themselves (in their 40's sounds best!!), but we do need to be aware of their feelings and be able to talk to them at an age appropriate level, and not have our heads in the sands. I plan to be firm, but don't want to be so forbidding that the idea then appeals to much - it all depends on the nature of the teenager too. Oh for God's grace and wisdom. I am starting to pray NOW for my children's future spouses. They are only 7 and 5, but let's get the prayer in for God's direction and protection.