Meg Meeker M.D.

Family Matters


My 11-Year-Old Daughter Has a "Boyfriend." What Should I Do?

I am not a big fan of dating before the latter years of high school.

Posted Oct 20, 2010

Every parent must make decisions about dating, and if your fifth-grade daughter tells you she has a boyfriend, you'll have to make some decisions sooner rather than later. Unfortunately for our kids, there is a lot of pressure, even as early as the fourth grade, for boys and girls to pair up. So if this happens to your child, here are a few recommendations.

First, I am not a big fan of dating before the latter years of high school and even then, usually dating results in heartache. So, right from the get-go, encourage your daughter to forge healthy friendships with boys. Let her know that the best way to get to know the real deal is through friendship, not dating. I have seen a resurgence in group dating for teens opting for healthy friendships over romance.

Second, make household rules about dating and make them stick for every child in your home. This way, no child feels singled out, and when rules apply to everyone in the family, they are more palatable.

Third, girls shouldn't have a one-on-one date until they are at least sixteen. Why? A teenage girl should always be on equal footing psychologically and mentally when she is dating. When teen girls date teen boys, they often look up to them and are vulnerable to wanting to please their dates. Particularly nice, sensitive girls may do things they'd rather not because they don't want to "hurt" their date's feelings.

Finally, when kids are in elementary school and junior high, have frequent discussions about what's going on in your child's class. Ask if kids are dating, etc. Then, if your daughter says that she has a boyfriend and wants to date, ask what she means, specifically. Does she mean that she wants to sit next to him in class, or go to movies alone? If she tells you the latter, let her know that, while others in her class can date, that's not what the kids in your family do. Tell her she has the rest of her life to date if she wants, but for right now, she needs to concentrate on getting to know boys as friends, on her athletics, her friendships with girls and her school work. And if she screams at you that you are the meanest parent in the world, tell her that, yes you are, but she is stuck with you. Then, be sure to tell her why you are so "mean"—because you love her like crazy. Then smile.