I found this interesting article on the Wall Street Journal’s website. You may prepare yourself to be greatly concerned, or sigh with relief on things you’ll read here. Feel free to comment on the questions following the article:
Fourteen-year-old Claire August has fond memories of Valentine’s Day. Last year, a seventh-grade classmate she was dating gave her a little box of candy hearts.
Nearly half of 11- to 14-year-olds say they have been in a dating relationship, according to a 2008 survey of 1,043 tweens by Tru, a Chicago youth market-research firm, for Liz Claiborne. A larger share—60%—think parents should let middle-schoolers date, according to a recent online poll of 787 users by Yoursphere, a social-networking website for tweens and teens.
But “dating” in middle school doesn’t mean what many adults think. Tween couples talk mostly via text and chat. Their relationships are fleeting but all-consuming. They date in packs—but expect their boyfriends and girlfriends to be monogamous. And they keep their parents largely in the dark.
Anthony Conselatore didn’t tell his parents the first time he asked a girl out, at age 12. “I was nervous, and we really didn’t talk much while we were dating,” says the Potomac Falls, Va., teen. “We’d see each other in the hallway for five minutes, then go to classes and not talk to each other again until the next week.” Within a couple of months, he adds, “she fell in love with a different guy, and she broke up with me,” he says. “It happens.”
Now 14, Anthony is “more than friends” with a girl at school. When he sees her in the hall, “we give each other a hug and go on with our lives,” he says. But they fire more than 300 text messages back and forth each day. If they do go out, they go in a pack of friends because it helps avoid “that awkward moment, when we’re staring at each other for five minutes, not saying anything,” Anthony says.
“We dated for seven days,” mostly by text message, Nicholas says. “In middle school, a long relationship is a month. Anything over that and your friends say, ‘Omigod, you guys have been together that long?’ ” He adds, “Then, she broke up with me. I lay on my bed staring at the wall for three hours, and then it was, like, ‘OK, I’ve got a life,’ ” and he went out with his friends and forgot about it.
Now a sophomore, Nicholas says he has more social skills and sees the girl he is dating more often. “We understand each other,” he says.
Talk about dating becomes pervasive when kids turn 9 or 10, amid earlier onset of puberty and social pressure to grow up fast, experts say. “Sometimes parents think it’s really cute” when young kids date, but children lack the skills to handle it, including setting personal boundaries and knowing they have the right to privacy, says Rosalind Wiseman, author of “Queen Bees & Wannabes,” the book that inspired the film “Mean Girls.”
Several tweens I interviewed said they agreed to date someone not because they wanted to, but because they didn’t know how to say no.
Karen Kruse was startled when her 11-year-old daughter, Olivia, came home from sixth grade last fall saying a classmate told her that his friend “liked her and was going to ask her out on a date,” says Ms. Kruse, of Phoenix. Olivia said no, with encouragement from her brother, Joshua, 13, and her mom. At that stage, Joshua says, dating is mostly about social status: “Kids want all their friends to know they’re going out with so-and-so.”
Much of tweens’ dating behavior reflects what they think they “should” do, based on “what they see on TV, in movies or among older kids,” says Vanessa Van Petten, a Portland, Ore., author and founder of RadicalParenting.com, a parenting-advice website written by kids.
More than 1 in 4 tweens say oral sex and intercourse are part of tween relationships, the Liz Claiborne survey found. That doesn’t mean 1 in 4 tweens are engaging in those behaviors, however. Respondents were answering a question about dating behavior in general at that age, rather than their own conduct.
Anne Smith, Claire’s mom, believes banning dating outright is a mistake; “the kids just do it anyway. And then you have no communication with them,” she says. Instead, she permits Claire to ride her bike occasionally to the mall or a movie with friends.
A kid’s first crush poses an opportunity to teach values, Ms. Wiseman says. A parent might say, “Tell me what you like about this person,” and explore whether the child knows what distinguishes healthy relationships from harmful ones.
Lisa Conselatore, Anthony’s mother, monitors her son’s late-night texting. If he misses too much sleep, she takes away the cellphone for a while. She has taught him what kind of photos are appropriate to send to others. And she is satisfied that his social life is “well-rounded,” and that he balances dating with other friendships.
One parenting expert advises that the best place to date is at home. When parents open up their homes so kids can get together, says Mary Kay Hoal, founder and president of Yoursphere in Davis, Calif., they lay the groundwork for continued involvement during the next stage of high drama—the high school years
Chance to Interact:
- When is it old enough to date?
- When should you begin to speak with your child about “dating”?
- Does the popular society trend of “dating” really just foster a “divorce/remarriage” culture?
- What concerns you most, as a parent, that sexual situations were discussed on polls regarding tween dating? (that tweens are engaged in this behavior? that tweens were asked about this behavior? that tweens are mimicking behavior they watch on tv?)