Boys and girls have always been attracted to one another, but the age attraction begins varies tremendously from one person to another. For some, those feelings of attraction start in the later years of their life, which is when they step into online sites to find their perfect match, for others it begins in elementary school. And for a few others, it’s not until high school.
Although the age gap varies, when a child of 9- or 10-years-old begins to show romantic interest in another, parents need to be proactive in communicating and establishing guidelines. Here are some tips to help:
Set the stage
Take your preteen’s relationships seriously. Attractions are normal and will only increase as children grow. Remember the way he or she views and conducts relationships now paves the way for future dating relationships.
Get their view
Ask your child how he or she defines “dating,” “going out” or “having a boyfriend/girlfriend.” Then share your views. Reinforce the need to always respect others and oneself.
Keep the line of communication open
If the relationship has gelled, continue dialoguing so you know how it is progressing. Ask open-ended questions in a casual way: “What do you like about this boy?” “What do you have in common?” “How does he treat you?” “Who are his friends?” “How do you feel about them?” “Do you feel respected by this person?” This gets your child thinking about what is important in a relationship.
Establish & discuss relationship boundaries
These could include not being alone with the boy/girlfriend, having parental supervision at home, not being allowed in each other’s bedrooms, no touching, staying in group settings and having a curfew, to name a few. Equally important is to help your preteens understand why these boundaries are there so they begin to develop an internal compass.
Set expectations in other realms of life
Remind your preteen the importance of remaining focused on academics and extra-curricular activities, as well as maintaining current friendships. Set guidelines about phone and Internet use too.
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Monitor media exposure
The messages young people receive from music, TV, movies, books and magazines are laden with love, sex and relationships. Make sure these messages line up with your family’s values. If you see or hear something questionable with their media, use it as an opportunity to discuss your values in a non-confrontational way. Realize your preteen may question your values, particularly if they don’t line up with media messages or their friends’ values. This is normal and means they are questioning, but not necessarily rejecting, what you embrace.
Know their friends
They have a tremendous influence on the way your child thinks, talks and acts. Open your home and encourage your preteen to invite his or her friends over so you know them and see how they interact.
Share with your preteen that the way we dress sends a message to others. Clothing should be modest and should not have provocative messages written on it. Set the standard by being a good role model in the way you dress.
Honor privacy to a point
Reserve the right to inspect your preteen’s backpack or room if he or she becomes secretive or begins to show other signs that concern you.
Allow expression of emotions
Don’t minimize your preteen’s feelings, no matter how trivial they may seem. This is particularly true for boys who may think they need to suppress it. At the same time, teach him or her to make decisions based on careful thought, not heartfelt emotions.
Lend emotional support
Most preteen relationships are short lived. When the relationship ends, your child may or may not be hurt, but your sensitivity and empathy toward the situation will build a healthy trust and bond between you.
Know when it is time to intervene
If the relationship moves beyond innocent, the preteen becomes obsessive or you begin to see unhealthy behaviors, contact your school counselor or other professional for advice.
By Denise Yearian, former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children and four grandchildren.