One minute they are happy with life; the next, they hate everything.It is a peak time of physical growth for boys and girls. Their appearance begins to be important to them so they brush their teeth and shower more. These physical changes often drive behavior, especially when it comes to their burgeoning sexuality—so figuring out when and how to respond is like a high-wire act for parents. They respond more strongly to social rewards like a friend’s approval or disapproval.They were laughing about another friend who was “dating” a girl. It got me wondering what exactly “dating” means to middle schoolers, and whether it’s a good idea at that age.As many parents know, adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 can be the most perplexing and frustrating humans on the planet.Recently I was driving my 14-year-old son and his friends to soccer practice.In the backseat they were chattering away, and in the front seat, I was the proverbial fly on the wall. “Yeah, they have been hooking up for a while.” Dating? I wondered how they could be talking about these things when they couldn’t even drive a car or pay for the movies.For every upside to middle school romance, there’s a pretty harsh downside.Rejection is hard at any age but especially so at a stage when you feel physically, emotionally, and socially vulnerable.
So coupling an adolescent’s risk-taking with his love for reward plus the innate need to establish his own sexual identity can mean that previously innocuous behavior can lead, if unchecked, to high-risk activities. While most people think of dating as getting in the car, picking someone up, and taking them to the movies or dinner, that’s an adult’s definition.
It’s helpful for parents to recognize that being more than friends doesn’t necessarily mean an interest in physical intimacy. 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 her.
Finding out that a boy likes you makes you feel pretty and popular boosting your preteen self-esteem.
Finding out 11.4 days later that he is “so over you”destroys your self-esteem, affirming all of your middle-schooler suspicions that you are unattractive, awkward, and that no one really likes you.