So it’s Saturday morning and your 7th grade daughter comes running in your room and says, “Mom/Dad, Brian just called and asked me to go to the show this afternoon. P-L-E-A-S-E! Can I go?”
You’re caught off guard and you pause momentarily to consider the question – to which your daughter interjects, “All my friends get to go to the show with their boyfriends. . . Oh P-L-E-A-S-E. I really want to go!”
Lead Researcher, Pamela Orpinas, shared three interesting observations:
1. A likely explanation for the “worse educational performance” of early daters is that these adolescents start dating early as part of an overall pattern of high-risk behaviors.?
2. Dating a classmate may have the same emotional complications of dating a co-worker. When the couple splits, they have to continue to see each other in class and perhaps witness the ex-partner dating someone else. It is reasonable to think this scenario could be linked to depression and divert attention from studying.
Dating should not be considered a rite of passage in middle school.
Perhaps the findings from a recent study from the Journal of Research on Adolescence might help you find your answer. Researchers followed 624 students in 6th to 12th grade for seven years. Each year researchers noted the students’ dating habits, as well as changes in behavior and study skills. Following categories: had the worst study skills.
3. So in trying to figure out the answer to your middle schooler dating, here’s a helpful suggestion I provide in my book, ABCs of the Birds and Bees – For Parents of Toddlers to Teens regarding dating.
First, I encourage parents to determine their family values regarding dating. In other words, at what age will you be comfortable with your children dating? Then I encourage parents to plant those seeds early so their children grow-up knowing their family values. Here’s an illustration I give in the book:
Regarding dating, researchers found students tended to fall into one of the following categories:
Never or hardly ever dated in middle school to high school.
Rarely dated in middle school, but increased dating in high school.
Dated throughout 6th to 12th grade.
According to the research, students who dated in middle school had significantly worse educational performance, were four times more likely to drop out of school and reported twice as much alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use.
Students with the lowest incidence of dating had the best study skills.
When guidelines for dating are established early, they help eliminate future problems. A mother shared with me that when her daughter was about six-years-old she brought up the subject of dating. She asked her little girl, "Do you know what your Daddy and I are going to let you do when you are about 16?"
With great excitement and curiosity and little girl replied, "No, Mommy! What?"
"Well," her mother responded, "when you are about sixteen, and if you prove to us you can make very wise choices, your father and I are going to let you start dating." The little girl’s eyes glistened with excitement as she thought of her Prince Charming coming to take her on this wonderful date.
Throughout the next few years, the mother and daughter talked about what a fun date might be. When they saw teenagers together, they would discuss which couples looked like they were having fun and had a healthy relationship and which ones didn’t look so healthy.
When the daughter was in the 8th grade, she came bouncing down the stairs all excited and announced that a young man had just invited her to go to a movie. The mother lovingly turned to her daughter and said, "I’ve been telling you for a long time that you would be able to date someday, but not before you were 16."
She said her daughter was disappointed. She was even a little mad, but she was not surprised. Obviously, the path this wise mother began to pave when her daughter was six alleviated some of the frustration and pain for both mother and daughter.
Note: Middle School is not too late to plant those seeds. And as you set guidelines for dating, keep in mind it’s far easier to loosen the rules as you go along than tighten the reins once your child starts dating.
Morris, Marilyn, ABC’s of the Birds and Bees for Parents of Toddlers to Teens; 2010, pg. 44.