Advice on What To Do When Your Child Becomes Interested in Dating and Sex
Dear April Masini,
My fifth-grader recently told me she wanted a boyfriend! She keeps talking about boys who are in her classes and saying she wants to date some of them. Isn't this way too early for her to be talking about boys and dating? I'm really worried I'm going to have to start talking to her about sex soon. Do you have any advice for how we can make this time and the topics of kids, sex, and dating easier for the whole family?"
Mother of a Boy Crazy Fifth-Grader
April Masini's Advice :
Dear Mother of a Boy Crazy Fifth-Grader,
Birds do it, bees do it ...
Children are developing secondary sexual characteristics earlier now than at any other time in history, and socializing with the opposite sex starts younger now than it did when you were a kid. In addition, boys are being held back a year in school as a trend, so that the boys in your daughters’ classes are usually a full year older than she is. What this means is your child or pre-teen starts to exhibit crushes, you might need advice on what to do.
Here are some tips to help them, and your entire family, stay safe and loving: *Don't make fun of your child. Listen. Ask questions to elicit your child's feelings. Also ask questions to make sure crushes are innocent enough. Childhood crushes and love are feelings just like anyone else's, and they deserve respect. If you had a bad time with your parents when you expressed your first crush, (if you were embarrassed or humiliated or teased, for example) consider this relationship with your child a healing time, and treat your child the way you would have wanted to be treated yourself when you were their age.
- Don’t place more importance on your child’s feelings than are actually there. Don’t start talking about what a nice family little Johnny comes from, if that’s who likes your daughter, or vice verse.
- Make sure you have the birds and the bees talk with your child. Follow up with a good, age appropriate book on sex as a gift. Your child should have a book to reference if they don’t want to ask you something directly.
- If a girl or a boy calls on the telephone for your child, and you pick up the phone, be respectful, but stay in the loop. Don't be shy about asking who's calling -- first and last name. After your child hangs up, you can ask who was calling for them and how they know them. For all you know it may or may not be a girlfriend or boyfriend on the phone -- it may be a study partner, assigned by a teacher.
- Safety-check your child's computer life! Most kids these days IM (instant message) each other, and instead of asking for each other's phone numbers (or digits), they want to know a friend's screen name, so they can instant message them. Parental controls on computers are a great idea. Children all too often see pornographic junk mail that makes its way into adult and children's mailboxes. In addition, kids looking for trouble can simply google curse words, and come up with a plethora of sex websites that are not intended for children. Become a part of your child's internet life by e-mailing your child cute chain letters and e-cards. This will encourage the kids to include you in their chain letters that other kids are sending around. You'll get to know their friends' screen names, who the friends are, and what they're reading, and an idea of where they're at that you may not have known prior.
- If your child wants to "date," consider it an innocent childhood crush, and allow it -- but chaperone, chaperone, chaperone! The best bet is for kids to go out in groups with one or two adults as chaperones. Get together with another parent to do this so that you're not "the bad guy" to your child. Make sure activities are age appropriate and healthful. Sports are great – ice skating, roller skating, surfing, etc. Going to a movie and out to eat is fine, but giving kids lots of time to just hang out at one another’s house may be asking for trouble.
- Keep your eye on any behavior that feels too fast. Trust your instincts.
- Watch television and movies with your children and discuss what’s going on. If you haven’t watched lately, you’ll be shocked at how much sexuality is in all the story lines and dialogue of family hour shows. De-mystify it by discussing it. Let the children know you’re not too squeamish to discuss sex and love.
Love is a time for separating from parents in order to form romantic bonds -- but children are too young to separate too much. Use your good sense to balance your parenting skills.