When it comes to the age of attraction, it all depends on the kid. For some, those feelings start in late elementary school. For others, it’s not until high school. If your 9- or 10-year-old is starting to show romantic interest, however, being proactive is key.
1. Set the stage. Take tween relationships seriously. Attractions are normal and will only increase as children grow. Remember, the way he or she views and conducts relationships now paves the way for future dating.
2. Get their view. Ask kids how they define “dating,” “going out” or “having a boyfriend/girlfriend.” Then share your views. Reinforce the need to always respect others and oneself.
3. Keep open communication. If the relationship has gelled, continue the conversation. Ask open-ended questions in a casual way: “What do you like about this boy?” “What do you have in common?” “How does he treat you?” “Who are his friends?” “How do you feel about them?” “Do you feel respected by this person?”
4. Establish boundaries. These can include not being alone with the boy/girlfriend, having parental supervision at home, not being allowed in each other’s bedrooms, no touching, staying in group settings and having a curfew. Explain your reasons, too, to help kids develop an internal compass.
5. Set expectations. Remind your tween about the importance of staying focused on school and extracurricular activities, as well as maintaining current friendships. Set guidelines about phone and web use, too.
6. Know their friends. They have a tremendous influence on the way your child thinks, talks and acts. Open your home and encourage your tween to invite his or her friends over so you know them and see how they interact.
7. Discuss dress. Share with your child that the way we dress sends a message. Clothing should be modest and should not have provocative words on it. Set the standard by being a good role model in your own attire.
8. Honor privacy, to a point. Reserve the right to inspect your tween’s backpack or room if he or she becomes secretive or begins to show signs that concern you.
9. Allow expression. Don’t minimize their feelings, no matter how trivial they may seem. This is particularly true for boys who may think they need to suppress it. At the same time, teach him or her to make decisions based on careful thought, not heartfelt emotions.
10. Give support. Most tween relationships are short lived. When things end, your child may or may not be hurt, but your sensitivity and empathy will build a healthy trust and bond.
11. Know when to intervene. If the relationship moves beyond innocent, the tween becomes obsessive or you begin to see unhealthy behaviors, contact your school counselor or other professional for advice.
Art by Mary Kinsora