Some time last year, my daughter sprouted an interest in boys. It happened, like so many things concerning kids, almost overnight. One day I was asking her if she thought so-and-so was cute and she wrinkled her nose in disgust. Then, maybe a few months later during dinner one night, she casually worked the word “boyfriend” into the conversation.
“Boyfriend,” I coughed. “Whose boyfriend?”
“Mine,” she answered nonchalantly, rolling her spaghetti around on her fork with the same la la la easiness as if she had just told me she needed me to sign a permission slip or drop her off to school a half hour early. “His name is Daniel.”
I didn’t lecture. I didn’t trip. I didn’t insist she break up with him or flip out about it being too soon for her to have a boyfriend. The upside about being a young mom — and there are very few upsides to being a young mom — is that I remember very vividly being her age and having little romances that meant absolutely nothing outside the bubble of elementary and middle school-dom. We met in the hallway, walked together, shared some candy, and broke up as effortlessly as we got together.
Though things have changed and society is moving so much faster, which means our kids are moving fast right along with it, I figured that was one thing that may have preserved its innocence: the formula for the middle school love affair. Besides, I figured she would sneak and keep the fire burning anyway, so I might as well use it as an opportunity to guide her understanding of what to do, give, and expect in a relationship. (Not that I’ve got that down pat. I’m learning as I go myself.)
The fling with Daniel didn’t really grow legs, but the idea of a boyfriend has definitely grown roots and become a staple. Miss Thang is never without some flowering courtship, and the latest object of her affection is a 14-year-old 9th grader who graduated last year from the school she’s currently attending. That doesn’t sit well with me. Why in the world does a high school freshman want to be bothered with a measly 7th grader that he can’t even see on a regular basis?
I should’ve known a plan was afoot. A few weeks ago when I was picking her up from her afterschool dance program, he was there (he still has family in the school and pops up with them from time to time). He sauntered to the car and held out his hand.
“I’m Malik,” he mumbled in that teenage boy, mouth-full-of-mush kind of way. I said hi and asked him what that should mean to me. “I’m Skylar’s boyfriend,” he continued. After a few minutes of hemming and hawing on his end and a litany of questions from mine — What kind of grades did he get? What’s his favorite subject? What did he think about hip-hop’s portrayal of women in music videos? (which made Skylar, who was standing within earshot, nearly buckle at the knees with exasperation) — he got around to spitting out what it was he really wanted. He wanted to take her out on a date.
Not on my watch, buddy. Not at 12 years old. And honestly, if I was his mama, he wouldn’t be asking a girl out at 14, either. I think that’s still too early, even for a boy.
I get that in middle school, going out is more of a group thing than the one-on-one, dinner-and-a-movie kind of date. I get that. But with the pressures to be and act so much more mature than their age, I think kids try to emulate the things they see on TV and what they’re “supposed to do” in relationships. At 12, Skylar hasn’t gotten all of the information she needs to make me confident in her being out with a boy. She’s still got SpongeBob posters on her wall, for crying out loud.
I’m not questioning that 12 is too young to date. I’m wondering if making her wait until 16—maybe even 17—is unreasonable in this day and age. I usually don’t question myself, but here goes: Am I being a fogey?
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