Pre-teen Crushes

Dear Sharon,

My son is in the sixth grade. He is pretty typical for his age I guess. Recently I noticed that he has written a girl’s name all over his school notebooks. Our assumption is that he has a crush on someone. We haven’t addressed this kind of issue with him yet. Is it time to have some dialogues about girls and related sexual topics? As progressive parents, we are concerned that he behaves towards as a sensitive guy. We aren’t expecting this yet, but it seems it’s here. It appears he’s gone from the yuck stage about girls to the hmmmm stage without our realizing it. We want to do the right thing by him and by the objects of his affections in the years to come.

Melanie M.

Dear Melanie,

Even though this issue is one of the most embarrassing and tricky ones to tackle, it is very important for parents to figure out ways to offer their perspectives and support. Here are some things to keep in mind as you try to dive into the world of crushes and emotional roller coasters.

Teens and preteens need lots of attention. Getting a good connection with a child this age often takes a great deal of time and patience. If you are going to try to talk to your child about a crush you have to spend a fair amount of time doing other things before broaching the topic. Hanging out in their room, listening to their music, watching a movie or playing a computer or video game that they like and you have absolutely no interest in can go a long way towards better understanding between you and you child.

When you feel like you both are liking each other’s company (that sometimes can take a while) try to bring up the topic in a casual way (i.e. I noticed you have _______’s name on your notebook, or ______ seems like a pretty nice person). The response you get will probably not be casual, it may well be a “hey that’s forbidden territory” kind of response.

At this point you will have to use your judgment, you can either keep trying or drop the topic for now. Either way your child now knows you are noticing that VERY important things are happening in their life and you care about them. They wish you didn’t know anything about them and at the same time are desperate for your shoulder to lean on. Confusing mixed messages for everyone involved but all part of the world of the teenager.

If you feel it might be a good time to broach the topic again (enough time has passed since your last attempt, or you can sense there is a lot happening in your child’s life) a very good time to bring up sensitive topics is when traveling places. It doesn’t matter if a teen is on foot, public transit or in a car it is always a good idea to travel with them. It is always nice to have company when you are going somewhere and there is also something extremely reassuring that travel time has a beginning, an end and movement, nice things for both parent and teens.
Some of the most fruitful talks I have had with my teenagers have been on the way to and from places. If you are lucky enough to have a car and you are in the middle of a good conversation always remember to take the very long route to lengthen the amount of time you have together.

Once your child starts talking about relationships (or anything else) remember to be quiet and listen. Don’t interrupt them to give them important tips, correct them or tell them about what you would do in that situation. Let them finish what they have to say before offering your opinions. Your opinions are very important but you need to talk much less that they do, giving your child a chance to talk can really help them figure things out. By this time they know all of your opinions anyway, casual reminders go a lot farther than long winded frustrated lectures. If they think they have your ear they will want to use it much more.

Crushes and relationships are an important part of every teens life and any help you offer will make a big difference to them. In fact all the little attempts you make to let your child know you are there for them and interested in their life will pay off one day. If you are successful in making inroads into the pockets of teen embarrassment and emotion (no small accomplishment), I can almost guarantee that the conversation they will finally decide to have with you will be very late at night on your hardest work day of the year. Just when you crawl into bed exhausted they will knock on the door wanting to talk. As hard as it is, stay awake as much as you can and listen. They will suddenly talk much more than you thought possible and your support will be worth weight in gold.

You asked about how to help your son be a “sensitive guy”. Probably the hardest thing for us to realize is that the relationships your children have will mirror your own relationships. This is a good time for you to model sensitivity; with your children, your friends and your partner. If your partner is respective and helpful in your direction as well, your children will be much more likely to find a similar kind of relationship. As much as teenagers look like they don’t care about what you do or how you behave, they are really watching your every move. If you are kind and considerate towards your child and others it will be the best way to help them be the same.

This time in a child’s life is challenging, emotional and full of promise and excitement. If parents can remember that they play an invaluable role in making it go well, things are easier for everyone. Welcome to the world of adolescents, enjoy.