Last year, Lora and I were invited to be part of a panel of parents for a middle school event hosted by our church. This was a Q&A session for parents of middle school aged kids. The panel consisted of four couples, all of whom had older kids and whom the youth pastor felt had successfully navigated the tricky middle-school years.

There were close to 200 parents and the questions covered a wide variety of topics. One topic that ran a shiver down my spine (and still does) is the topic of middle school dating. Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?


In middle-school?

I remember when my boys were in middle school and they would occasionally mention that this boy was “going out” with that girl, and so on. Then, a week later, they had broken up. My boys couldn’t even tell me what “going out” meant at that age, outside of there being some understood affiliation or special friendship between these two people.

Unfortunately, the social pressure is constantly increasing for more physical contact to be a part of “going out,” even in middle school. As the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, used to say with his thick Australian accent, “Danger, danger, danger!”

We will talk more about high school dating in coming blogs, but for now, here are a few ideas for how to approach this subject with your kids during the middle school years:

Listen. Get the conversation started. What does “going out” mean? What have your kids seen in their school and with their friends? What do they think about it? This will be an ongoing conversation and the best way to start is by listening.

Talk about it. Once you have listened to their point of view, your kids will be more open to listening to yours. Think together about the pros and cons of “going out” with someone at this age. What does this even mean? What are the dangers that concern you? Are there ways to develop good age-appropriate friendships without adding the social/emotional/physical pressure of “going out?” “The right thing at the right time” is a favorite phrase of mine and it applies here.

Set very clear boundaries. Lora and I decided that our boys would not be allowed to “date” until they were sixteen years old. That clear boundary simplified things for our boys (whether they liked it or not) and took a difficult item off the social/emotional menu until they were at a better age to handle it.

Focus on friendships. I think this is key. If middle school dating is off the table, then focus on what is on the table: Developing quality friendships with both boys and girls. I’ll write about this more in coming blogs.Keep them busy. Not over-busy, but when a child is busy with positive activities, then the dating issue is often less of a temptation.

No one said that parenting was easy and this can be a tough topic with some kids. But if social, emotional, and sexual dangers are real (and they are), then kids need safety railings from mom and dad to avoid those dangers.

That’s your job.

Have your middle school kids wanted to “go out” with someone?

What age do you think is appropriate for special boy-girl friendships (e.g., going out)?

How have you helped your kids to dodge the dangers of getting involved with the opposite sex too early?

7 comments (Add your own)

1. kattie wrote:
I think it is a good thing for kids to date at an early age because it teaches them young to live and let go

Sat, February 1, 2014 @ 12:26 PM

2. drtodd wrote:
I guess it depends on how you define dating. Having good friends of the opposite sex and doing activities together in groups will provide plenty of opportunities to experience some relationship ups and downs, without the added pressures and dangers that go along with one-on-one dating at too early of an age. With the societal and peer pressures that kids experience at increasingly younger ages, I would rather err slightly on the side of caution. From a Christian perspective as well, I think having our kids enjoy their friendships without the temptations of physical touch sneaking in until they are older and better prepared to handle it makes a lot of sense.

Sat, February 1, 2014 @ 1:30 PM

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