Dear Harry and Louise,
I am the mother of a beautiful, intelligent, precocious 13-year-old daughter. She is in the seventh grade. She is a strong athlete and is devoted to her schoolwork. When she puts on heels and a bit of makeup, she could easily pass for 17. She has caught the eye of a 15-year-old boy who is in the ninth grade. My husband and I know this boy well because he plays soccer with our son, he goes to our church, and we like his parents very much. They are not close friends of ours, but we do see each other frequently as social gatherings. We know they are a nice family and share the same values. We would have not imagined allowing our daughter to date at such a young age, but this does seem like a reasonable exception. We really like this boy and can imagine the two of the them as a sweet first couple. We would, of course, supervise their initial dates. For example, we will drive them to the movies and pick them up after the movie, and we will be at home while they are at our house watching television. He’s such a nice boy.
Do you think there is ever a special circumstance in which it’s okay to allow a girl to begin dating before high school?
Pondering in McLean
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No. There is no special circumstance. "He's such a nice boy" is the beginning of every horror movie I have ventured to see. I realize you will not be amused by that comment at all, so I'll approach this from a different angle. Your gorgeous, athletic, scholarly daughter is a little girl. I don't care what her bra size is or how fantastic she looks in makeup--she is still a child. Very few of us (including me) possess the mental agility and maturity necessary to keep our heads above water while involved in a romantic relationship. So why would a parent want to throw her innocent and ignorant child into the lion's den so soon? Your little girl will have so many years to explore the mysteries of boys, the allure of her sexuality, the despair of rejection, the elation of attraction. You can't keep the curtain closed to the messy prospects of these aspects of romantic relationships, but you should certainly do what you can to keep her from exploring them so soon.
As parents, we wish we could create charmed lives for our children. We will fail miserably in our pursuit every time, since there is so little we can control. What you can control right now is making sure your daughter is not cheated of her childhood. She still has a few stages to safely travel through before pondering which dress makes her look the sexiest and which way to tilt her head when the boy goes in for a kiss. She still needs time to maneuver the high and low points of maintaining female friendships, the great conversational opportunities provided by friendships with boys, the necessary negotiations of staying on a teacher's good side. There are so many new relationships to handle at this age--so why add a romantic one on top of these?
I don't believe we ever master any of the relationships I listed above. I do believe we can protect our young charges from premature romantic entanglements while they are trying to figure out so many other important relationships at this amazing junior high school time. I look back with such fondness at my years of bad perms, enormous glasses, braces, and hair pulled back so tightly that my expression always seemed to say, "Wow, that's really interesting." Don't spare your daughter the awkward, goofy memories of being 13. She can watch this nice boy play soccer and she can smile at him in church, but her days of being part of a sweet couple should be ahead of her, not right in front of her.
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Ruthie was my first crush. We were in kindergarten. In fourth grade, Barbara was my first girlfriend. She lived around the corner. I stole my first kiss in sixth grade, playing spin the bottle with Mercedes. By the time I hit 13 in eighth grade, I was officially girl-crazy. Suzy broke my heart by ditching me for a ninth grader. I guess we were both 13, though she could have passed for 16. Such is the difference in maturity between boys and girls in their early teens.
There's no nipping young love in the bud. Let it bloom. Like Romeo and Juliet, your youngsters will find a way to meet and talk into the night.
On your end, there's no need to encourage--or aid and abet, to use a more precocious phrase. What I find so unnerving and disturbing about parenting these days is the urge to get too involved with children's lives. By imagining them as a "cute first couple," you are already setting them up on adult terms. What happens when another girls catches the boy's eye, and he dumps your daughter? Do you really want to be that involved?
Your job is to set limits, rather than set times and places for the two kids to hook up, as they say. Why not let them get together during and after school? They can giggle and chat on the sidelines after a soccer game. Chat after church. Why encourage them to date?
Keep it on the cute and adorable side by steering clear of driving them to the movies, unless they are part of a group. Having him over to your house to "watch TV?" I don't think so.
Set limits: No touching. No necking. No sexting, whatever that means. Be the adults, rather than the friends. Your daughter needs to know you are strong in your parental role, because her relations with boys will only become more complicated and complex. She will rely on you as a parent. Raising three girls, I speak from experience.
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Mercedes? Suzy? You told me I was your first love!
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You are, after a certain age.