Is your Tween Dating?

Many middle school students are involved in “romantic” relationships. While you might consider “dating” the process of going places with someone to get to know them better, youth today think dating is calling each other boyfriend/girlfriend and socializing online in a way that is often invisible to parents. Your tween could be dating and you might have no idea.

BEFORE your middle school student begins dating, here’s what you should do:

Role model. Tweens learn a lot about relationships from watching their parents. Make sure you are modeling healthy interactions. You and your partner should treat each other with respect, deal with anger in non-violent ways, avoid calling each other names or putting each other down, and compromise for win-win solutions to problems.

Get them involved. Encourage your tween to find fun and fulfillment through extracurricular activities, interests, and friendships so that they will be more likely to postpone dating. A bored tween who doesn’t have anything they are excited about is more prone to desiring a dating relationship.

Talk. You should take every opportunity to help your tween understand your family values and expectations. Use books, movies, or other media to open up conversations and explain why you think the characters are making good or bad decisions.

WHEN you find out that your tween is “dating,” here’s what you should do:

Talk. Show positive interest in your tween’s boyfriend/girlfriend by asking open-ended questions. Where did they meet? What do they have in common? What does your tween like about him/her? If you keep your questions positive, your tween will be more likely to feel comfortable sharing with you in the future. If you see any red flags as you talk, use open-ended questions to help your tween think about the issue without you launching into a lecture or offering unsolicited advice.

Set a positive tone. First romances can be a formative experience, so do your best to make it a positive experience. You might offer to take the two kids to get ice cream while you sit at another table or you might tell your tween that you think their crush is a nice kid. Whatever you do, do NOT tease your child or talk about their boyfriend/girlfriend in front of others. You will only embarrass your child and ensure they will not share any information with you in the future.

Stay connected to other parents. You can’t be everywhere, so if you can keep connections with the other parents in your tween’s social circle, you will have a better chance of knowing what is going on. If you hear about inappropriate activity, discuss the issue with your tween and ask what he or she thinks about that behavior.

Set rules. If your tween is “dating” then you should make sure you have firm, specific rules in place, or they will make up their own rules as they go. Tweens are not emotionally ready to be physical, so make sure they stay supervised. They should not be allowed to be alone in a room together with the door closed or be at each other’s house when parents are not there. You should let your tween know other specifics such as where the tweens are allowed to go and what behavior is acceptable.

Be aware. Do not assume that your tween is too young to be having sex. Many of today’s tweens engage in sexual activity, and many of them have a much more casual attitude about oral sex than sexual intercourse. Be sure your tween knows what your expectations are for his or her behavior, and give your child the resources he or she needs to make smart decisions about their bodies.

Don’t blow off the breakup. When your tween’s mini-romance ends, pay attention to their reaction. If they seem perfectly fine that it’s over, don’t press them for details. If they appear to be really upset, demonstrate compassion. While you know that their romance was not a big deal, you will only hurt their feelings more if you minimize their pain. Validate their feelings and offer your support.

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