Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dealing with preteen dating and relationships

It's a fact of life that boys and girls are going to become attracted to one another. But when that attraction begins varies tremendously. For some, feelings of attraction start in late elementary school. For others, it's not until high school. Experts agree, however, that when a child of 9 or 10 years old begins showing specific interest in the opposite gender, parents need to sit up and take notice.

"Kids this age may have a boy- or girlfriend, but still not know what dating means," says Shaunti Feldhahn, relationship researcher, analyst and author of "For Young Women Only." "They are mimicking what they see played out on TV or by teenagers, but they don't have a full grasp of how a relationship works."

Parents, she says, may have a tendency to dismiss these early relationships among preteens as trivial, but they should be taken seriously.

"It's an advanced signal of what is to come and needs to be addressed by mom and dad while they still have a major influence in their child's life," Feldhahn says.

Jane Bowen, program director for ARC, a division of Children & Families First in Delaware, agrees. "Parents should take the lead in facilitating age-appropriate discussions with their preteens regarding friendships, dating, decision-making and sex. If your son says he has a girlfriend or is 'going out' with someone, ask what that means," she says.

But a discussion of this nature shouldn't be a one-time deal, Bowen says.

"These conversations need to happen frequently so parents know where their preteens are in relationships and preteens know what their parents' expectations are," she said.

This is what Patty and David Ford of Wilmington did with their 9-year-old daughter Amber. "When she was in the fourth grade, Amber would tell me that so-and-so liked her and that other girls in the class had boyfriends," Patty Ford recalls. "I felt like if she came and shared it with me, it was important that we talk about it."

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2 are talkin':

Liza said...

Good article. Definitely communication is what's lacking in families, that's why kids get the image and meaning of dating and relationships from media, which is hardly a reliable and intelligent resource. If we don't start moderating early, our kids may just turn to be Paris Helltons or big Messica Simpsons! I've really been into these Hollywood Zombies trading cards that we got at work, and they're a very eerie warning of what we could all very well turn out one day. :) Perfect for teens and moms. I work with them so check them out at http://www.hollywoodzombies.com.

The Relationship Company said...

I just happen to be passing by when I read your post. Nice post and keep up the good work!