Navigating Middle School Dating: The Pros and Cons of Preteen Relationships
There are many things that can keep Christian parents up at night, and most would agree that their child’s first love interest is high on that list.
Whether you’ve already established dating ground rules around dating or are praying you won’t need to for several more years, it’s important to create a game plan that works for your family.
The ideal time to start having open conversations about dating is prior to sixth grade. But if your child is already in middle school, don’t panic — it’s not too late for parents to step in.
Parents — your reactions matter.
Families are often launched into the dating world in one of two ways: you find out your child has secretly had a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” for a while, or your child openly asks for permission to hang out with a friend of the opposite sex.
Either scenario can cause you to cringe, but take a deep breath and consider how your reaction in this moment will impact your relationship with your child in the years ahead.
While it often feels unsettling to think of your child in the context of a dating relationship, it’s important to take a step back and remember that their feelings and desires are normal. Parents who recognize that all boys and girls are created with natural, God-given desires tend to find it easier to navigate the dating scene … even if they aren’t quite ready.
“From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female…” -Mark 10:6
Of course, just because your son or daughter has a desire to date doesn’t mean you will automatically grant them permission to do so. There are many factors to be considered — including age, maturity, values, and boundaries.
By considering these factors ahead of time, you’ll feel much more confident and equipped to respond to your child when the time is right, rather than react — or overreact.
Considering the pros and cons of dating in middle school.
Let’s start with the obvious concerns about middle school dating.
1. Their emotions are all over the place.
This isn’t a cliche or overgeneralization, it’s a fact confirmed by neuroscience. Middle school-age children do not have a fully developed prefrontal cortex, and they are still relying on another part of their brain – the amygdala – to make decisions.
While the prefrontal cortex allows us to rationalize using logic, the amygdala drives emotional decision making (think fight or flight). Because middle school students are still in a phase of rapid development and trying to get a handle on their own emotions, it can be extra tricky when boys and girls decide they want to be “more than friends.”
2. Becoming too attached or too intimate is a real concern.
Everyone remembers their first love interest, the first time they held hands with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and especially their first kiss.
These firsts can prompt overwhelming feelings of attachment and evoke desires that your child is simply too young to explore. Guidelines and supervision are key for middle school dating.
It’s also wise to begin having conversations with your child about how dating relationships can impact friendships. Remind your teen about the importance of strong friendships in middle and high school and how dating takes time away from these meaningful relationships.
3. Peer pressure to date or be like other couples.
You’ve already had many conversations with your child about avoiding peer pressure and standing firm in their convictions. But it’s important to know that for middle school students, dating can come in waves. One minute you’re hearing about your child’s best friend’s girlfriend, and the next day you discover that your son also has an admirer.
This is not a time to waver in your convictions; they need your involvement and protection more than ever.
You might observe some parents dropping off preteen couples at the movie theater. But you might only be comfortable with group hangouts or a supervised family dinner. Hold firm to your boundaries.
Like everything else in life, dating is a learning opportunity.
While there are obvious cons to middle school dating, embracing the reality that your child will soon express interest in the opposite sex presents a plethora of opportunities to invest in their life. Let’s consider the pros of young love:
1. Dating allows you to reiterate and strengthen your family’s beliefs and values.
Nothing helps you teach and illustrate God’s Word like real-life scenarios. Your child’s first dating relationship may come as a shock, but consider it an opportunity to discuss God’s miraculous design for mankind and his commandment to remain pure until marriage.
Be mindful not to approach the conversation from a place of judgment, and try listening, understanding, and encouraging your child in truth. Your wisdom will help them select a future life partner with great intentionality.
2. Setting boundaries and dating ground rules can increase your child’s confidence.
One of the most important and uncomfortable parts of being a preteen is not knowing what is right and what’s not.
Your child wants more independence, but they still desperately need your guidance. Let them know you are setting firm ground rules for their protection, not because you don’t trust them.
For example, you might only allow your child to hang out with their special friend in a group setting, at your home, or at supervised school events. Avoid bending the rules so your child always knows what to expect, and discuss increasing independence when you feel the time is right.
3. Remaining open-minded and level-headed will strengthen communication.
When your child asks for something that you know they’re not ready for, it may be tempting to respond with frustration.
Parents caught off guard by seemingly outlandish preteen requests can often respond with humor or sarcasm. These reactions will only push your child away and diminish the quality of future conversation.
Even if your child’s request is out of the question, listen to their thoughts and desires first, then respond with a calm answer. This approach is much easier if you’ve already set family ground rules and boundaries around dating.
Remind them of your reasoning, and consider a compromise. When your teen can see that you want to honor their wishes while also protecting them, they will be much more likely to continue the conversation.
Every family will handle dating differently, and now is the time to consider your approach.
We hope these tips help you to consider how dating will impact your family in the years ahead, and how a proactive parenting approach can strengthen your relationship with your teen.
If you’re looking for a new middle school where you can find a community of like-minded Christian families, we invite you to learn more about Wake Christian Academy by downloading our Parent Info Packet.