Ever since our children were small, we’ve discouraged the idea of dating. Children are involving themselves in relationships at younger and younger ages and I want my kids to stay away from that distraction for as long as possible! When I worked in elementary school, kids as young as 5 and 6 would tell me who their boyfriend or girlfriend was. This realization led me to start talking with my kids about dating much earlier than I expected!
We talk about the incredible power of falling in love or the extreme devastation of heartbreak. Not to scare them but to prepare them. We explain the importance of saving those experiences for when you are emotionally ready and how having these experiences too young can have an underlying effect on all of their relationships for the rest of their lives. We use examples of people in our lives or storylines on television to exemplify our message and we revisit this conversation often.
Because we don’t ever want our children to feel like we are trying to control them, we never established any rules against dating. I fear the more we tighten the reigns, the more we are setting ourselves up for rebellion. I would rather empower them to make decisions that are in their best interest. So instead, we share the impact of attaching yourself to another person and the potential consequences of being in a relationship, often. We talk about how middle and high school are the only time in your life when you have all of these experiences and opportunities available to you (clubs, leadership opportunities, theater, band, athletics, arts, etc). But when you are in a relationship, you just can’t do it all. Having a boyfriend or a girlfriend changes your priorities and compromises your experience. The other person’s likes and interests become intertwined with yours, making it difficult for young people to discover what truly fulfills them. You can’t be in a relationship with someone in middle or high school without sacrificing some part of this experience. We tell our kids, they’re not in a hurry so take the time while you’re in school, to learn about you. This way when you’re ready to move on from high school, you’ll have an idea of what you enjoy. There will be plenty of time for dating when you’re done with school. However when you are my age, it’s not so easy to find time to join a soccer team or participate in a theater production, so now’s the time to seize the moment and try something new. This is the chance to learn about yourself, discover your likes and interests, and focus on you.