From Taylor Swift to Disney, it's hard to keep romance off kids' minds — but here's why we should.
When we moved into our house in 2012, the little boy next door came over to meet my 10-year-old. He was 9, and I rejoiced that there was a potential playmate on our street for my daughter.
"There are lots of kids on our street," he assured me. "My girlfriend lives in that house, and she's eight."
I tried to keep my eyebrows from sprinting skyward, but I couldn't believe this child called another little girl his "girlfriend." My daughter looked at me out of the corner of her eye; she knew that she wasn't allowed to have a boyfriend until she was 16 — and even then, group dates only.
Any insinuations of romance before then are strictly prohibited. I don't ever try to force my world views on other people's children, though, so I brushed past the topic and later addressed the conversation privately with my daughter.
When it comes to my children and preparing them for romance, I'm pretty conservative (if you haven't figured it out by now). Love, relationships and sex are all crucial events that can have a major impacts on someone's life and influence its path. I don't want to under-prepare my kids.
Linda Sharps wrote a post on The Stir called "Cute Kid Moment or Too Close for Comfort?" about the internal freak-out she had upon walking in on her 6-year-old son watching TV and cuddling with his good friend who happens to be a girl.
Luckily the situation broke up before she had to intervene, but while many of the commenters called Sharps crazy for "overreacting" to something so innocent, the post — and Sharps' reaction — resonated with me.
I'll acknowledge that my approach is conservative, but with a daughter on the verge of a hormone tsunami, I'd rather be safe than sorry.
I'm sure my daughter will someday resent me and my husband for our no-nonsense dating rules, but I'd never forgive myself if my lack of enforcement was mistaken as permission or approval for promiscuous behavior.
I just don't find it cute — nor healthy — to allow children to mimic romantic affection as a form of play. Here are a few reasons.
1. Children should be practicing friendship skills.
At a young age, children need to be learning non-romantic peer interactions: how to resolve disputes, consider the feelings of others and even stand up for themselves. These aren't easy skills — even for adults.
If you allow or encourage kids to play at romance, before their platonic friendship skills have developed, they're going to venture into confusing situations. Their hearts are bound to be hurt by situations they're not mature enough to understand.
How my TK-year-old daughter going to deal when her "boyfriend" wants to "break up" on their two-day anniversary, or he won't hold her hand because it's sweaty? Those are small heartbreaks she just wasn't equipped to even consider yet.
2. Parents have a responsibility to offset the message society is sending.
There is an abundance of shows featuring children in romantic relationships at a very young age. It's hard to avoid them totally; even Ariel, the Little Mermaid, was 16 when she married Prince Eric.
Tween shows from iCarly to Wizards of Waverly Place feature kids dealing with relationship issues. Unless you keep blinders on them, your kids can't help but see the sex-driven commercials aimed at their parents.
Heck, my 10-year-old was fascinated by the Royal Wedding. And then there was 19-year-old "role model" Miley Cyrus' engagement. Young people see relationships and romance everywhere, but seeing romance on TV doesn't prepare kids for the reality of it.
As a parent, I feel like it's my responsibility to limit my children's exposure to situations they just aren't ready for.
3. Kids get habituated to romantic behaviors learned too young.
One of my childhood friends got her first kiss in the fifth grade, with a crowd of kids cheering her and her boyfriend on. I was a late bloomer and didn't get mine until much, much later, at a time when a kiss was no big deal to my early-blooming friend.
I want holding hands to be a big deal for my daughter when she's 16 — not something that she's been doing with her mini-boyfriends for so long that it's boring. The longer hand-holding and smooching remain exciting, the better the chances that she'll be content with those appropriate activities and the longer it'll be before she's interested in putting herself into more sexual situations.
4. It's hard to change the PDA rules when kids hit puberty.
I've heard a lot of parents laugh about their kids' playground romances and remark on the cute factor of the mini PDAs. "They're young," they say. "It's innocent."
Yes, it is innocent and there's a sweetness to it — now. But when you tell a child that romantic behavior is okay, it's hard to backtrack. If you let a child snuggle with her boyfriend while watching a movie at 8 years old, she's gonna be confused and resentful when it's suddenly not okay at 11.