Cupid Aims the Arrow: Tween Romance




Happy Valentine’s Day!

It is  with slight trepidation that I start writing this blog post. Why you ask? Well on this day that celebrates all things romantic, we thought it would be appropriate to start tackling the issue of dating. This topic stirs an amazing amount of controversy and diverse opinions. But it wasn’t always so.  Long, long ago the rules of dating seemed clear cut.

Here is an example of dating advice given by the Reader’s Digest in the 1950s:

Dating Etiquette for Girls

  • Only floozies ask guys out.
  • When someone asks you out, it’s polite to give an immediate answer.
  • Never break a date without providing a valid reason.
  • There’s no such thing as fashionably late; be ready when your date arrives.
  • It’s only proper to introduce your date to your parents.
  • Don’t apply makeup in public (please see first point).
  • At a restaurant, it’s ladylike to tell a date what you want for dinner, so he can order for you.
  • Don’t humiliate guys by trying to pay for a date.

Dating Etiquette for Guys

  • Dates aren’t like cramming for exams; don’t wait until the last minute to ask a girl out.
  • It’s poor form to honk the car horn to announce your arrival; call for her at the door.
  • Ask her parents when they want her home — and make sure your watch works.
  • It’s only polite to help her don her coat.
  • Real gentlemen open car doors for girls — or any door, for that matter.
  • It’s chivalrous to walk between her and the curb.
  • Bring enough money along.
  • No kissing on the first date.
  • On prom night, don’t leave the corsage in the fridge.

Today, not only are the rules for dating less clear cut, but even the language of dating may create misunderstandings between you and your tween. For example, when we were growing up, “hooking up” with friends was another way of saying that you were going to meet up with friends.  “Hooking up” today means you are going to engage in sexual activity with a someone.  While that is a dramatic example, even the word “dating” can be a loaded word. When my son was a teenager he was talking about a girl that was interesting , fun and pretty.  So I innocently said, “It sounds like you want to date her?” He gave me a horrified look and said, “I didn’t say I wanted anything SERIOUS, I just want to hang out with her.”  Apparently, I needed a translator, so with a sigh he explained:

Hanging out…….translated into mom language means…..Dating

Dating…..translated into mom language means…..Being someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend

The language may be the easiest part to navigate.! While it can be uncomfortable for parents, it is normal and natural for tweens to start to have romantic interests, . The establishment of their sexual identity is part of the maturation process. With the influence of the media, tweens today are exposed to a wide array of images of  “dating” activity for their age. Among their peers, there is an equally wide variety of what is allowed in the dating realm. When I was growing up it was a very common rule for kids not to be allowed to date until they were 16. It was the rare tween whose parent permitted dating.  Today, there are some families who adhere to a “dating is for high school only” rule and other families who will support some type of dating activity toward the end of elementary school.

It may be easy to pass a snap judgment on the examples above, seeing one parent as overly strict and the other as being overly permissive, but as you dip your toe into the dating waters, you will see that it can get pretty murky.  For example:

Is your daughter going to the movies with a boy she has played with since kindergarten, but who you now suspect she like likes (not just likes), a date?

You know, that your son going to the movie with someone is a date, but is the girl coming over and the two of them hanging out in the family room also a date?

You are very clear that you will not condone dating in middle school, but your son continually talks to a girl every night, finds reasons to stay after school and you caught him walking across campus holding hands with a girl. Is this dating?

Your daughter is constantly texting and face-timing someone from her class.  Is this the new dating?

This is  just a sampling of the dilemmas that can bubble up in the tween years.

So as you eat your chocolate bon bons or help your tween finish those Valentine’s Day Cards, give some thought to where you stand on dating in the tween years.

In our next post we will address how to set appropriate limits and boundaries around dating that are consistent with your values and suitable for your family.  While we have plenty of advice to give, we also know that there are many of you out there that have thoughts and experiences about romantic relationships in the tween years. We would love to hear from you. Please take a moment and post your views and experiences about dating in the tween years.

Car Thought:  (something to ponder as you shuttle your kids about) What is your biggest concern about romantic relationships during your child’s tween years?