One of the top pressures girls face in 6th, 7th and 8th grade is to have a boyfriend. It seems to “legitimize you” in middle school. Girls feel tremendous pressure to grow up too soon, while at the same time still wanting to be young. It’s an internal conflict and very confusing.
We parents get confronted with this dating decision earlier than most of us would choose to.
In middle school dating could mean a boy and girl like each other from afar, pass notes through friends, or ignore each other awkwardly in the hallway. It could mean the couple is going out on public dates and making out in the movie theatre.
There’s not just one correct way to date or not date. Parents have all sorts of opinions. Our children are each different too. So I'm just going to offer some thoughts to consider, having watched my own and many other teens go through their teen years.
When middle school hits, it seems otherwise confident girls struggle with their identity. All of life’s meaning seems to squeeze into three questions: Am I pretty? Am I popular? Do I have a boyfriend?
This pressure is tremendous, but our girls need to know they have much more value than their looks and acceptance at school.
Nicely ask the honest question of WHY she wants a boyfriend. Listen to what she says. Make her come up with an answer. Have her come up with actual pros and cons of having a boyfriend now.
Help her determine her motive. She may want a boyfriend just because she feels incomplete or out of the social scene otherwise. I would ask, "Do you really enjoy him, or do you like who you are because of him?" I want to teach my girls that other people's hearts are valuable and fragile and not to be played with. I don't want boys using my girls to get what they want. I don't want my girls doing that to boys.
Have you considered this? Friends are valuable and generally last longer. It's easy for a really good strong friendship to later become a dating relationship. It's much harder to recover a lost friendship after dating too soon and hurting the relationship. More fights happen between girls about boys than anything else. So much drama is wrapped up in dating life. Is it worth it?
Consider the value of waiting for things. By design girls love to give their hearts away. For a believer, giving her heart and love to Jesus will bring much more fulfillment to her life than a boy will. There’s no rush to give her heart to another person. At this age, it will bring heartache. At some point, giving her heart will be the right thing to do! It helps girls to know that. It's all about timing.
From a parental perspective, the value of waiting has another angle.
This line represents 6th grade to graduation. If boyfriends start in 6th grade, look how many years there are to get through. It's easier to delay freedoms and give them when it’s time, than to allow freedoms only to have to go backwards. The earlier the desire for a boyfriend is encouraged, the longer and harder the road. On the other hand, if girls spend time in teen years growing in maturity and friendships, odds are better for happiness and less heartbreak.
What does she do with her feelings? Let your daughter know there’s no way you can stop her from liking a boy. It’s completely natural. There’s nothing wrong with noticing cute and nice boys. As my husband puts it, you can like him, but it doesn't mean you need to do anything about it. If girls are honest, a big reason they agree to date is the thrill of the moment that a boy asks her. She feels “seen”, “noticed” or “chosen”. Is she only responding to that feeling, and not so much the boy? Knowing that feeling may come, but it doesn’t require action might be a relief to her.
Teen years should be fun and as drama free. Our daughters may put up a fight with these boundaries, but later will be thankful. Our job as parents is to help them grow up well. Sometimes they need us to protect them from the pressures they feel, even if they won’t admit it.
Is the benefit of early dating worth the risk?