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Anti-Valentine: Should We Shield Our Kids From Cupid?

14/08/2014 16:47 | Updated 22 May 2015
Anti-Valentine: Should we shield our kids from cupid?

Valentine's Day was a crushing disappointment for me, growing up. From about the age of 11, I longed for a secret admirer to state his intentions: instead, the empty doormat made me feel like a loser.

The only Valentine card I got, pre-boyfriends, was hand-delivered in class by my secondary school stalker (a sweaty boy who used to shower me with heavy-breathing phone calls: the police were involved).

Since having my first 'real' relationship at 16, I've always had a partner on Valentine's Day. A card is a dead cert. But the painful memories of yearning for romantic recognition never go away.

Thankfully, my angst kicked off once I was safely ensconced in the hormone-ravaged world of secondary education. That's why I was shocked to hear that my son's primary school ran an annual Valentine's Disco for years 3 and above.

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Imagine having to deal with the bitter-sweet disappointment of unrequited Valentine desire at the age of seven! I couldn't think of anything worse.

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And the school soon had a change of heart. Although the staff had the best possible intentions, the Valentine Disco caused an increasing amount of grief each year. It started with year 6 girls worrying about what to wear and whether or not they needed 'a date' for this auspicious occasion (which involved blaring chart hits, plastic cups of fruit and a hotly-contested dance-off).

Then the pressure started to filter down the school, and little girls in years 3 and 4 were soon cracking-up under the strain. Would a boy ask them to dance? Would their mum let them wear lipstick? Were you still allowed to go if you didn't get a Valentine's card? Of course the boys followed suit, relentlessly teasing each other about the (unlikely) prospect of a 'kiss-chase' on the big night...

Thankfully, the school saw sense and the event was rebranded as a 'Spring Disco'. What a relief! Chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs are innocuous compared to the loaded sentiments of love hearts and red roses.

The disco saga proved to me that primary school children are simply too young to be swept-up in the hysteria of Valentine's Day.

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The pressure of romance, dance-floor politics and dressing to impress the opposite sex is just not needed at an age when girls actually have the capacity to believe in Prince Charming - and boys would rather wrestle their buddies to the ground than think about relationships.

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"Our primary school doesn't make a big thing of Valentine's Day and I would stamp my feet if they did," says Janine Rudin, a mum of two girls aged eight and 11.

"Kids shouldn't be encouraged into celebrating Valentine's because it will lead to the extra pressure of being liked, of receiving a card and sending one. I don't want my girls to be thinking about having a boyfriend, or thinking they need to like one friend more than the other."

Emma Clackson, a mum of one boy in year 4, agrees. "Affairs of the heart need to go at each person's own pace," she says. "Some will be thinking about love at 12, some at 22. To try and force it as something they should be thinking about or feeling is creating yet more pressure in what is already a pressured environment.

"I'm very soppy and love Valentine's, and I think it's important for children to see their parents thinking about romance and relationships – but as long as they know it's something for when they get older."

Rachael Power, a mother of five, draws the line at letting her children send "mushy cards full of grown-up declarations of love".

"Both my older boys have had cards or teddies from girls," she says, "But I think it's far nicer to take in cakes or cookies to share, rather than singling out your favourite friend. There's nothing wrong with acknowledging a day for being kind and sharing, making it more friendship-focused for the whole class. But I wonder if it's a different issue if you have daughters who are keen to be noticed."

Not all parents think a Valentine's event is a bad idea. "We're holding a disco at our primary school with a Valentine's Day theme," says Toni Kent, mum of a six-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son. "It's just a way for us to bring a bit of interest to the disco as the children can come dressed in red, or wearing hearts, if they wish.

"I do think children should know that people use Valentine's Day as a way of showing love towards one another, but I wouldn't encourage them to buy or make a card for a classmate.

"It's important for children to understand love, feel loved, and be able to show love. But romantic love is something that should remain the domain of grown-ups for as long as possible."

"I see Valentine's Day as a harmless bit of fun," says Nicola Goodman, a mum of girls aged eight and nine. "Valentine's themed cards or discos are fun once a child reaches juniors - I'm not sure infants (under seven) even grasp the concept!

"I don't bow down to the huge commercial beast, but I encourage my girls to express their feelings in a homemade, creative way by making cards or heart-shaped biscuits (mostly for daddy). My mother-in-law sent my husband an anonymous Valentine's card every year till the day we got married. That made him smile, so I try and replicate that feeling with my girls."

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If I sent Eliott a Valentine's card, I think he'd die of embarrassment, anonymous or not.

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This year, he's already taken to teasing me and his dad, asking if we'll be sending each other cheesy "I love you" cards.

I'm happy for him to take the Mick. It feels far more appropriate than having him worry about who he'll dance with at the disco. And with any luck, he'll continue to scoff at the silliness of Valentine's customs for a good while yet, dodging the disappointment of an empty doormat for as long as possible.

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