At this age, we want to clarify with our children what they mean by “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”. They may have heard the term from their friends, other family members or in the media, and they may not understand it fully.
Parents can take this opportunity to start a discussion about what a boyfriend or girlfriend means, and how that is different from a friend. You may like to explain that a person's character is more important than how he or she looks.
Share your family’s position with your kid about the appropriate age to start dating. You can be sure this would not be the last time this subject comes up, so do keep a lookout for opportunities to continue this conversation with your child.
Preadolescent girls are more likely to be interested in boys, than boys are in girls. That said, if your son raises this question at this time, do respond thoughtfully as well.
This may mean that your daughter or son has started to notice the opposite sex, and this is part of their normal development. Instead of communicating worry, take a posture of curiosity and find out more from them about what they mean.
For example, some questions you may like to consider are:
- Is there someone you have in mind or are you just asking because you’re curious?
- What do you think having a boy/girlfriend would be like?
You can re-affirm your family’s position about the appropriate age for dating, and take this conversation further by talking about the differences between love, lust, and infatuation. Doing so will lay the groundwork to help your child identify what he or she is feeling—whether now or in the future. Invite your kid to come back to you if he or she has any questions or if they want to talk more about this subject.
Again, it would be good for parents to take a curious, not investigative, tone when talking to their children about this question. If your child is interested in someone, find out more about his or her friend: “How did you get to know him/her?”, “What do you like about him/her?”, “What do you both have in common?”
You may wish to encourage your child to focus on building a healthy friendship with this person first, so that they can get to know each other better while they focus on their studies and other important commitments at this point of their lives. Help your son or daughter to know where you are coming from, so that they can appreciate that you care for him or her, even if he or she may disagree with your position.
This is also a good opportunity to talk about healthy boundaries with the opposite sex. Whether with your child’s friend or other friends of the opposite sex, explain to them that interacting in a group is more appropriate. Explain that spending time with someone of the opposite sex in a one-on-one setting may give the other person the wrong idea or lead to situations in which healthy physical boundaries are not guarded well.
In addition to that, discuss with them about healthy emotional boundaries. What kind of information or level of vulnerability is appropriate to share with a friend of the opposite sex? Sharing too intimately can create a sense of closeness that your child and his/her friend are not, at present, ready for.
Encourage your child to have healthy friendships with peers of the same sex and the opposite sex. This is an important part of their development, and will also help them to build the skills to pursue a romantic relationship in the future.
In your conversation with your child at this age, you can delve deeper into certain specifics.
Discuss some good guidelines for dating with your child.
- What should they be looking out for in a girl/boyfriend?
- What kind of friendship should they have with someone they are interested in before considering pursuing a dating relationship?
- What are their similarities and differences in terms of character, values, dreams, and the ways they relate to family and others around them?
Revisit your chats about healthy physical and emotional boundaries, and check in with your child about how he or she has been practising these boundaries. Asking them for their opinions provides an opportunity for you to hear how their thoughts have developed about these boundaries since your last discussion.
Share with them that the purpose of dating is to evaluate whether or not they should marry the person. In light of that, they need to not only assess whether their boy/girlfriend possess the qualities of the spouse they see themselves married to, they should also practise healthy boundaries in their dating relationship to protect the quality of their marriage in the future.
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