“Dating” in middle school: what does it even mean?

In Middle School, Parenting by AmyLeave a Comment

Imagine you’re sitting in a car line, innocently scrolling social media and sipping some afternoon iced coffee, when you see your middle schooler emerge from the crowd.

Holding hands.

With a boy.

You choke on your coffee just a little bit as your mind starts to race.

“Who is this kid?”
“Why didn’t I know about this?”
“Does my CHILD have a BOYFRIEND?”

You try to compose yourself as much as possible as you watch your sweet little middle schooler blush, say goodbye to this unknown human boy and walk toward your car. 

You take a deep breath, smile a bit maniacally and say “How was your day honey?” All while silently thinking, “What on earth do I do now?” 

If this is you, don’t panic. And if this isn’t you, don’t relax just yet: it could be soon. Middle school expert and author of Middle School Makeover, Michelle Icard shares,

“If dating in middle school terrifies you, take stock of your concerns. Perhaps you’re worried about early physical intimacy, heartbreak or your tween’s reputation. This is a good opportunity to share your values, perspectives and hopes. If you react reasonably, with a willingness to learn and be flexible, your child will trust your judgment and continue to seek your advice as the issues around dating become increasingly complex.”

So take a deep breath, and let’s dive in.

When it comes to communication, more is more.

“When a middle schooler wants to date or ‘go out,’ we’re left wondering, ‘what does middle school dating even mean?’ Begin by asking your tween what it means for them. Is it spending time together at the mall or movies? Or maybe it’s just extra texting and a change in their social media status. You won’t know unless you ask. This is also an opportunity for you to talk about your own expectations for what you believe is appropriate in middle school.” -Michelle Icard. 

Obviously, when a middle schooler is “going out” with someone, they aren’t going anywhere! By asking questions and listening carefully to what your middle schooler has to say, you’ll better know how to proceed. 

Clearly express your expectations and boundaries to your middle schooler

Every family has different rules and expectations when it comes to romantic relationships, and if you haven’t already, now is the time to make yours explicitly clear. If dating is firmly not allowed at this age in your household, talk with your child about why they want to date now. Understanding their perspective on this issue will help you parent them more effectively.

No middle schooler should feel like they “need” a boyfriend or girlfriend. Make sure that your child is self-confident enough to have healthy boundaries and the communication skills to talk about those boundaries with peers.

Download the cell phone contract for your tween.

Draw a firm line to prevent “serial dating”

A 2013 study from the University of Georgia found that middle schoolers who were in high frequency or back-to-back relationships tended to be prone to high-risk behaviors, like drinking or doing drugs, later in adolescence. Back-to-back relationships should be a red flag for low self-esteem and a search for validation that tweens aren’t getting elsewhere.

Interestingly, Ichard also cautions against group dating (the old Christian standby when I was growing up). “It may seem like a safety net to have more tweens around, but the group mentality can quickly push boundaries. Two awkward, gawky tweens forced to think of conversation is much better than a group of tweens daring the couple to go into a closet for seven minutes.” 

Overall, try to react calmly and rationally when your tween brings up dating. While the instinct may be to lock them in a closet until they turn 25, a series of open, honest conversations between the two of you will go much further toward future dating success. 

Want to learn more ways to keep the lines of communication open with your middle schooler? Get more resources from Bethesda Christian Schools here.

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