For me, it was Chase. My first Middle School crush, straight out of a romance novel: curly locks, football muscles, bad boy attitude, and the ability to bring most parents to their knees. But more than the memory of him is the memory of the feelings evoked by his arrival: the flutter of my heart, the excitement of feeling valued, the comfort of belonging, and the safety of acceptance during those rocky Middle School years. I wouldn’t say it was love but it was definitely “something.”
Middle School is probably the toughest time in our child’s development; a time of self-doubt, self-loathing, uncertainty, and insecurity. A time when the greatest question being posed is: Am I good enough? Then along comes “Chase” and all the answers to Middle School’s greatest questions are suddenly answered in vivid color. As I look back, it’s interesting to note that my parents never seemed concerned about my feelings for Chase. I don’t recall long conversations about boundaries, and guarding my heart, or the dangers of Middle School romance. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have absent parents, in fact, my parents were amazing. They never missed an event, spent a lot of time with me and my siblings, and even made surprise visits to our schools during the day to make sure we were making wise choices. I knew they were keeping watch behind the scenes but I don’t think Middle School romance was high on their list of concerns. Let’s be honest, Middle School romance then was akin to elementary romance today, i.e. a smile across the room, writing your boyfriend’s name on your book cover, and going totally mute whenever said love interest was nearby. Innocent. Not today’s Middle school romance. No, we are not talking apples to apples here anymore. Today’s Middle School relationships are far more advanced and mirror yesterday’s High School romances in nature.
Unfortunately, our middle school children still have middle school brains and aren’t ready to navigate these “high school/adult” relationships. It’s critical to note that the change in the face of Middle School romance is not a reflection of our children but rather a reflection of our society. Today’s preteens aren’t more “mature,” as some like to say, but rather more exposed. In our Middle School years we didn’t have cell phones, cable television, youtube, and all access to our hormonal peers at all hours. Society has stepped in to rob our preteens of their innocent relationships, and we as parents have to step up even more to guide and protect them. The goal is not to rob them of feeling valued and accepted but rather to make sure they get those feelings from the right sources.
Responses to Middle School Romance
It seems the norm is to think there are 2 responses to the issue of Middle School romance:
1. “You are not dating until you are 30!”
2. “Dating is fine in Middle School for you because it was fine for me.”
However, since neither of these options is safe or healthy we have to be prepared with option number 3.
3. Those feelings you are having are natural and exciting, I had them too. I want you to feel love, acceptance, safety, and security. Let me navigate these waters with you.
Here are a few pointers to help you manage Middle School romance with your preteen:
Targets and Flags
It's important to start talking to your kids about relationships BEFORE they show a serious interest. It's not a matter of if they like someone but rather when. The time is coming and so we have to be proactive in preparing them. Start small with conversations such as
- What qualities are important in a boy/girlfriend. Have your preteen write out a list of the top 10 qualities they want in a mate. Talk over these qualities with them. Let them see they have choices.
- Raise the Flag. Share with them red flags in relationships such as; demanding all their time, disrespecting their parents, their walk with Christ, etc. Talk about why these are flags.
- Talk with them about why they want a boy/girlfriend. Tell them this is normal and then also share other ways they can get these needs met: close friends, joining a club, getting involved in activities, etc. Remember they are at a stage where belonging, value, and acceptance are key. Help them to obtain those needs outside of a relationship when possible. Be subtle, don’t tell them no to the relationship, but be sure to encourage others options.
Accept and Direct
Make sure to normalize their feelings and be careful not to downplay them. The feelings they have are very real, and, rather than talk them out of those feelings, help them to understand them better. Parents often complain that their preteens and teens never talk to them. This is typically because they have been shut down’ and led to believe their thoughts and feelings aren’t heard. Let them know you are listening.
- Ask them what they like about this person
- Ask them how the other person makes them feel about themselves, make sure these reflect healthy feelings. This will give you insight into what ‘hole’ they are trying to fill in their own lives, such as security, acceptance, love, etc. Then you can subtly work on showing them other ways to fulfill that need. Again be subtle.
Slow their Roll
Society is working to set the pace for our kids and their relationships. It is up to us to set boundaries and slow that pace.
- Decide at what age, how often, and where your child can text someone of the opposite gender. It's okay to set strong boundaries such as, “you can text him/her from 5:00-6:00 pm in the living room.”
- Set up controls on your child’s phone so you can block numbers as needed and read all incoming messages and data. These controls should also limit access to social media, YouTube, etc. You won’t win awards in your child’s eyes but you can high five yourself as you are quickly becoming the parent God called you to be.
- Set up physical boundaries. They are too young for group dates, single dates, or visits to each other's houses at this point. Don’t encourage more time together than what's natural, but rather encourage more time with their same-gender friends. Don’t allow them to get overinvested in a boy/girl. Remember they are trying to find their identity and we don’t want them thinking they are only worthy if they are someone’s girl/boyfriend.
- Let’s be honest, we can sometimes get caught up in the magic ourselves and begin to encourage the relationship, especially when it's a special time like Valentine's Day or homecoming. Don’t be afraid to let your kids know that those are adult holidays or at least High school events. Don’t rob them of something to look forward to. Interestingly, I often hear students in Middle School say they have nothing to look forward to in High School because they have already experienced it all. Slow. Their. Roll.
So whatever happened to Chase? Honestly, I have no idea but I do know I learned a lot from that Middle school crush. I learned it was exciting to be seen and liked, but I also learned I didn’t need to be liked in order to be who God called me to be. I learned that a boyfriend didn’t define me and that I was so much more than just someone’s girlfriend. I learned this because my parents helped me keep Chase as a small, normal part of my life but not the center of my life. They encouraged me to grow in my faith, my academics, my friendships, and the sports that I played. They encouraged me to keep him as a side note. While that is undoubtedly more difficult today, it is also more important than ever before. Accept the natural feelings that arise in the heart of a Middle Schooler but keep your focus on helping them discover who they are in Christ.
Lana Snear currently serves as the South Campus Counselor at Legacy Christian Academy. She came to Legacy in 2018 with previous experience working in private practice, as well as other private and public school districts. Dr. Snear received her Doctorate degree in Psychology from Texas A&M University. She holds a license in psychology, school psychology, and a certification in professional Christian counseling. She has been married for 30 years, has 4 children, and a new granddaughter. She loves the relationships she has gotten to build with the students and families at Legacy. Her over-arching goal is that each student would know they are ‘seen' and have great value. KNOWTICE OTHERS=Notice others + Know Others
Legacy Christian Academy is Frisco's preeminent Pre-K through 12 Christian school committed to educating students in a college preparatory environment balanced in academics, athletics, and fine arts–all within the context of a biblical worldview. For more information on Legacy, visit our admissions page.