We asked Holly E. Schweitzer Dunn, LISW, of Mind Body Health Associates about that tricky time when kids start to take notice of the opposite sex. Learn when to expect it and how to navigate through this new stage of the game.
At what age do tweens start developing romantic feelings for others?
Usually at the onset of adolescence, approximately age 11. This is part of what makes the middle school years so interesting! Of course, some children begin to show a romantic interest in others earlier than this and some later. Emotional maturity plays a large role. Often, girls begin to show interest earlier because they begin to develop earlier than boys.
What do these early “relationships” look like?
“Going out” can mean many things, from talking in the hallway between classes, to talking or texting on the phone, to sitting next to each other on the bus, to spending time together after school. Some middle schoolers do become very committed to their significant other and may be interested in solo dating and physical affection. Emotions run high with middle school children. The first feelings of love should be taken seriously by caregivers, as these feelings are very powerful and serious for tweens.
What kind of emotional conflicts do tweens face during this time?
Conflicts can arise when tweens feel it is expected to want to “date” and they are unsure what this means or they aren’t ready for it. Kids who choose to hold off on dating may be called names by their peers, be the target of derogatory comments, or may start to question their sexuality. Tweens may feel scared, uncertain and anxious about having a first boyfriend or girlfriend. Peer acceptance is paramount during this age, so tweens sometimes make decisions based on perceived acceptance or fear of rejection from peers.
How can parents help their tween navigate this period?
Create a safe and open environment for communication at home. Remain lovingly firm in the boundaries and expectations you have for your children, ensure consequences are reasonable and related to behavior, and set up a family routine that allows for debriefing and discussion. Also, parents must be diligent about supervision in this age of social media. Ensure that electronic devices are utilized by your tween within your line of sight and set firm boundaries for time and access.
Holly E. Schweitzer Dunn, LISW,
200 W. Lima St.,