For most of us, it's something we'll never forget: Our first crush.
Whether the object of your affection was Scott Baio or the girl down the street, those first stirrings of the heart were intense and life altering. The world is never the same once you’ve been pierced by Cupid’s arrow.
And now life has come full circle and your tween has come home from her first school dance with a giddy smile and a new light in her eyes. You recognize that look – and it’s both sweet and terrifying. How do you deal with it?
“Be careful,” says Jennifer Kolari, a family therapist in Toronto, and author of Connected Parenting: How to Raise a Great Kid. “Don’t laugh or tease your child about it by saying things like, ‘Isn’t that cute.’ These feelings are very real to your child, and shouldn’t be minimized.
But at the same time, don’t validate these feelings too much. We have to watch our language. Some parents ask things like, ‘Is that your boyfriend?’ Words like ‘boyfriend’ and ‘date’ are not appropriate for this age group. Kids who are nine or 10 don’t go on dates.”
Is that normal behaviour?
If your child wants to talk about it, listen and reassure them that their feelings are
completely normal; you don’t want him or her to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Some kids – especially those who are very bright or very creative – have intense emotions and feel things deeply, says Jennifer. “That’s a wonderful thing, but sometimes these feelings need to be reined in.” If the crush is on Justin Bieber, and it seems healthy – a couple of posters on the wall and the occasional lip-synching performance to Baby – it’s fine.
“But if it becomes more of an obsession, you need to have the discussion about keeping things in perspective. And if the crush is on a schoolmate, discuss boundaries, and how not to make the other person feel uncomfortable. Some kids have a sense of what’s appropriate and others don’t.”
Girls tend to be much more open about their crushes, while boys tend to keep their feelings under wraps, perhaps out of fear of being teased by their friends. The important thing, says Jennifer, is to keep the lines of communication open. Avoid being dismissive (“Honey, you’re only 10. You’re too young to have a crush on anyone”) or overbearing (“You’re certainly not going on a date, if that’s what you’re thinking!”)
Try to remain neutral, and genuinely curious. If your son mentions that he thinks a girl in his class is cool, ask him what he likes about her. If he says he doesn’t know, try to come at it from another angle: “She sounds like she’s really nice. Do
you guys have a lot in common?” Don’t push too hard, but try to keep the dialogue going.
And if the crush ends badly – there’s a reason they’re called ‘crushes’ after all – resist becoming over-involved. “We love our kids, and we have a hard time tolerating their pain,” says Jennifer. “If their crush ends up liking someone
else, we jump in to cheerlead by telling them there will be lots of other boys or girls out there, or we get upset, which can make them feel even worse. What we need to do is build their confidence. Try saying, ‘I know this is hard, but I also know you can get through this. I believe in you’.”
THE SEX FACTOR
How much information is too much?
Times have changed. “Television shows are much more sophisticated than they were when we were young,” says family therapist Jennifer Kolari. “Many tween characters on these shows have boyfriends or girlfriends. And many kids are also watching restricted movies at age eight or nine and are developing crushes much younger than they used to.”
Add to that the advent of online chatting and social media, exposure to the Internet and provocative song lyrics and music videos, and it all creates a vastly more sexually-charged world for kids (and a more challenging one for their parents.)
So when should you have ‘the talk’? Many experts believe that there is no specific correct age – the right time is when the child asks about it. You can start by answering only the questions your child asks, or by asking them ‘What do you want to know?’ Avoid too much information at once, so your child doesn’t get overwhelmed – frequent, informal talks often work better than the old, formal “birds and bees” sit-down.
Try to focus on health and their bodies, and don’t make it seem taboo. It’s important to set limits, and discuss your family’s values and why they exist – a child will often feel relief if he or she knows that, for example, he or she can only go to a friend’s house when an adult is present. And above all, when talking to your kids, relax; you’re probably more nervous than they are.