Tales of a Fourth Grade Dating Game
I recently visited my hometown and spent some time with my family, including my ten year-old niece. Within ten minutes she starts divulging the details of the fourth grade dating world complete with kids “cheating” on each other and making sure that they have a “back-up” for when they are broken up with. It was really interesting to watch the responses and fear that washed across the families’ faces as this occurred. There was anger and shame almost immediately. These emotions were shot in her direction as she was told that she was too young to be dating and that she was not going on dates until she turned sixteen.
Luckily, she is a smart girl and she knows that this talk pushes boundaries with her parents, so she brings the topic up to get a reaction. Her nonchalant attitude towards dating and the treatment of each other is partially what she has seen modeled but also what she knows her parents don’t want for her. I hope that she stays smart enough to know that she can have a healthy and happy dating life (eventually) and that she deserves to be treated with respect. I also hope that she learns which boundaries and battles to push with her parents so that she can have a happy and healthy life.
I truly believe that for many kids who talk about dating and boy/girlfriends it is more about trying to understand the world around them and the mechanisms that work to develop a loving relationship more than it is a sign of a sexual drive blossoming. Many adults have a hard time separating their definitions from an adult perspective and looking at words from the mouths they are coming from and in return assume that children are acting as adults and shame them. When I talk to my son, niece or any other child about dating, sex or relationships I always ask them to explain what they mean when they use a word so that I am on the same level as them and can then use appropriate language and responses.
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