When we moved into our house a few weeks ago, the little boy next door came over to meet my 10-year-old. He's 9, and I rejoiced that there was a potential playmate on our street.
"There're lots of kids on our street," he assured me. "My girlfriend lives in that house, and she's eight."
I tried to keep my eyebrows from sprinting skyward, but I couldn't believe he'd called another little girl his "girlfriend" to an adult. My own daughter looked at me out of the corner of her eye; she's been told often enough that she isn't allowed to have a boyfriend until she's 16 (and even then: group dates only!) that she accepts it as law. I don't ever try to force my world views on other people's children, though, so I brushed past the topic and later addressed the conversation privately with my daughter.
When it comes to my children and preparing them for romance, I'm pretty conservative, if you haven't figured it out by now. Love, relationships and sex are all huge life situations that can make or break times of your life and influence who you are and the path your life will take. I don't want to under prepare my kids.
Linda Sharps recently wrote a post on The Stir called "Cute Kid Moment or Too Close for Comfort?" about how she walked in on her 6-year-old son watching TV and cuddling with his good friend who happens to be a girl, and had a bit of an internal freakout while trying to weigh what the appropriate reaction would be. Luckily the situation broke up before she had to intervene, but while many of the commenters called Sharps crazy for reacting to something so innocent, the post and Sharps' reaction resonated with me.
Right, I know, conservative. But stop rolling your eyes and hear me out on why I think that allowing children to play at romance and to mimic romantic affection just isn't healthy.
1. Children should be focusing on being good friends.
At a young age, children need to be learning how to resolve disputes, how to consider the feelings of their friends, and how to stand up for themselves. These aren't easy skills... obviously, since most adults could use a refresher course. If you allow or encourage kids to play at romance, it's like letting them act out Relationships 301 before they've even bought the book for 101. Allowing them to venture into situations where their hearts are going to be hurt and confused because her boyfriend wants to "break up" on their two-day anniversary or his girlfriend won't hold his hand because it's sweaty puts them in danger of getting bogged down with hurts that they shouldn't yet consider.
2. Just because romance is coming at them from every angle doesn't mean they're ready for it.
There are an abundance of shows featuring youngsters in romantic relationships at a really young age. It's hard to avoid them totally... even Ariel, the Little Mermaid, was 16 when she married Prince Eric. Tween shows from iCarly to Wizards of Waverly Place all feature kids dealing with relationship issues. Unless you keep blinders on them, your kids can't help but see the sex-driven commercials aimed at their parents. Heck, my 10-year-old was fascinated by the Royal Wedding, and then there's 19-year-old "role model" Miley Cyrus' engagement.
They see relationships and romance everywhere. But being familiar with the idea of romance doesn't mean they're ready to deal with it. Putting themselves into situations they see on TV, even the innocent ones where a boy and girl hold hands, can be really confusing for a child. As a parent, I feel like it's my responsibility to guide my children away from situations like these that they just aren't ready for.
3. What's exciting to them (and sweet to you) now will be boring really soon.
One of my childhood friends got her first kiss in the fifth grade, with a crowd of kids cheering her and her boyfriend on. I was a late bloomer and didn't get mine until much, much later, at a time when a kiss was no big deal to my early-blooming friend. I want holding hands to be a big deal for my daughter when she's 16 -- not something that she's been doing with her mini-boyfriends for so long that it's boring. The longer hand-holding and smooching are exciting, the better the chances that she'll be content with those appropriate activities and the longer it'll be before she's interested in putting herself into more sexual situations.
Of course, I've heard the argument that the stricter you are with your children, the more they'll rebel. I don't consider myself very strict overall; my daughter has an iPod and I make sure that she's involved in many and varied social activities. I'm sure she'll resent me and my husband for our no-nonsense dating rules someday, but I'd never forgive myself if my lack of enforcement was mistaken as permission or approval for promiscuous behavior.
4. You can't backtrack.
I've heard a lot of parents laugh off their kids having playground romances and remark on the cute factor of the mini PDAs.
"They're young," they say. "It's innocent." And I'll agree to that. It is innocent now and there's a sweetness to it. But when you tell a child that a certain behavior is okay, it's hard to backtrack. If you let a child snuggle with her boyfriend while watching a movie at 8 years old, she's gonna be confused and resentful when it's suddenly not OK at 11.
I'll acknowledge that I may be over thinking this a little bit, but with a daughter on the verge of a hormone tsunami, I'd rather over than under think it, and I'd prefer she spend time at the homes of children with parents who feel the same.
Originally published on YourTango.com; republished with permission.
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