I sometimes get questions from parents who are concerned that their elementary school child has a boyfriend or girlfriend. They rightfully don't want their child to grow up too fast or be too focused on romantic relationships while they are young. They may want their child to wait until he or she is older and can better understand the dynamics of these relationships and can enter into healthy relationships. Some parents feel "dating" is not age appropriate for young kids. I understand those concerns. I also know that many, many children whose parents forbid them from having a boyfriend or girlfriend have said to me as their therapist "I have a boyfriend. Don't tell my parents!"
Forbidding dating relationships for young kids doesn't guarantee they won't happen, but it nearly guarantees they won't talk with you about them. This can be a missed opportunity to talk about lots of important relationship dynamics, from consent to kindness to communication. It's sort of like how we help guide our kids when they're first learning to ride a bike. We stay close beside them, giving them pointers and helping them balance before we send them out to navigate on their own. Perhaps the most important benefit; starting these conversations young helps kids feel more confident and prepared for teen relationships, and more comfortable talking with parents about them.
Some questions I ask parents when deciding if they want to forbid dating relationships for their kids:
Some questions parents might want to ask their kids before deciding if they will allow boyfriends or girlfriends:
Of course I am not suggesting that we push our children into romantic relationships if they aren't interested in them. If kids feel pressured by parents to be in a relationship, it can send confusing messages about why we enter into relationships and who can provide consent for them. On the other hand, I'm not suggesting we give up on rules and boundaries and allow kids to do whatever they want. However, if kids are naturally interested in a romantic relationship with a peer, it can be an age-appropriate opportunity to help them practice the relational skills they're developing with your support and supervision.
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Leigh Ellen has been a child therapist for the past 15 years and is now sharing lots of fun and helpful ideas for parents here.