by Bryan Greeson

I really don’t think I’m naive. Out of touch, sometimes? Yes. Oblivious to the happenings of life around me? No. I did, however, need a little help from my older daughter a few years back. Becca was in the 6th grade and talking with me one day after school.

“Oh, Dad, did I tell you Janie is going out with an 8th grader?”

“An 8th grader?” I replied rather emotionally. “Going out? Going out where? Who’s gonna drive? He can’t be old enough to be driving yet, unless he’s failed about three grades in school. Do her parents know …?”

“Dad. When I say going out, I mean, you know, just going out. They aren’t going anywhere.”

Oh. Man, I should have known that. In my defense, we used to call it just going together. Funny how changing one word can throw you off. Going out. Going with … going steady. Basically, we’re talking boyfriend-girlfriend stuff here.

Middle school-age romance. Boys and girls in this age group aren’t yet teens, but certainly are no longer little kids. The marketing folks refer to this age as “Tweens.” Those ages, from around 8 or 9 years old to 12, make up this group who are between being children and teens. Oh, they still love mom and dad, fight with their siblings, and enjoy being active in sports and hobbies. They are also becoming fascinated with the opposite sex. Flirtation, blushing faces, and fluttering hearts are as abundant as broken relationships on a popular soap opera. The soaps are running rampant in these middle school classrooms as well, with love flames spreading like wildfire. It’s difficult to keep up with who’s going out with whom.

I frequently get questions from parents on this issue. Many are concerned that this love bug is happening too early—much earlier than generations past. I’m not sure about that. I think we all probably had these same feelings at this Tween age. Perhaps what has changed is the amount of freedom these kids have to act upon it all. It’s becoming more common for this group to have opportunities for together time. Parents are more permissive and facilitate this “early dating.”

On the other hand, some parents see it quite the opposite and want to disallow this going out stuff. “They’re too young for all this, and I’ve told them it simply will not be allowed in this house.” My take on this way of thinking is that it isn’t actually occurring in the house. However, it does happen at school, church, community happenings, and any other place that Tweens get together.

So, what can you as dad do? Don’t forcefully try to prohibit a natural thing. Chances are, your youngster will go behind your back in romancing with that cute boy or girl. But you can talk with them and set some guidelines.

First, tell them these feelings of interest in the opposite sex are normal and okay, but they need to keep them in the right perspective. They should not be going out at the exclusion of other friendships. It’s fine for them to spend some time with that new boyfriend or girlfriend at activities, gatherings, and events, but not just the two of them. Not only is it too much emphasis on this romance thing, but it may alienate them from friendships that are just as (if not more) important. It can be done. Encourage them to talk and interact with the group, not just the sweetheart.

The group. That in itself is another guideline. Allow some structured, supervised time for all of these friends to have some fun, but don’t feel obligated to provide “couple only time.” You’re just asking for trouble there.

Give your Tweens some guidance on how to act in these groups. Prepare them for the dares and teasing that may happen as well. “Oh, come on, kiss her! What’s wrong? Don’t you know how?” (Chances are these teasers don’t know how either, and they’ve got nothing else to do at the moment). Speaking of smoochin’, a dear friend once told my wife and I the “No PDA” rule at their church youth activities. “What’s PDA?” I asked. “You know, no public display of affection,” she replied.

Good rule. I saw it the one night in the movie theater. Two Tweens (maybe 12 years old), making out in the aisle. Forget the popcorn; I lost my appetite. What are they doing in the theater alone at that age, anyway?

Is your tween going out? OK, dad, don’t leave this issue up to mom. Join in with what’s going on in this newly developing romance, and give guidance along the way. Don’t get caught, as I did, having no clue as to what your 6th grade daughter is talking about.

Bryan Greeson is a nationally certified School Psychologist, residing in Gastonia, NC with his family. Have a question for Bryan or a comment about his column? Interested in his column for your publication? E-Mail him at parentconnection@hotmail.com.

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