Dating At School: When Is Your Child Old Enough To Have A Girlfriend Or Boyfriend?

12/11/2014 10:32 | Updated 20 May 2015

Dating in primary school: When is your child old enough for a relationship?

When I was four, I had a boyfriend. He lived a few doors away and we played doctors and nurses. He was of course just a friend, who happened to be a boy. I suppose some adult once made what they thought was an amusing comment about him being my boyfriend.

I was sad to lose him as a friend when his family moved away but for the next few years, boys were another species who were noisy and smelly; a common reaction from most children.

"When I asked my son aged 10 if anyone in his class had a girlfriend or boyfriend, he looked aghast," explained Louise.

But there are children in primary schools who send Valentine's Day cards and believe they are ready to have some kind of relationship, sometimes encouraged by their peers.

Victoria has a son aged nine. "My son has a good friend who is a girl. Other children have tried to say they are girlfriend and boyfriend but they are not. It's a shame that a lovely platonic friendship needs to be labelled that way."

Another parent's 10-year-old daughter told her she had a boyfriend. "I was horrified, then discovered this meant they walked around the playground together at break time."

Erika Brodnock, CEO of Karisma Kidz, which helps children raise their self esteem, says. "Children are innocent and platonic friendships between girls and boys are similar to same gender friendships and are harmless."

I asked Judy Reith, parenting coach and director of Parenting People for her opinions.

"There is no law about when you are old enough to have a girlfriend or boyfriend, unlike the age of consent. You need to know your child well, because some children may be ready for a relationship at 12 but another not until they are 17."

A relationship at 12? Surely not? Brodnock says: "In my experience of working with children, it's in Year 6 that they start to realise that the opposite sex are not simply 'Yuck'!'"

Both Reith and Brodnock agree that parents and children are facing the onslaught of pressure from the media. Reith says, "Early sexualisation encouraged by media influences is increasingly available and places huge pressure on girls to have boyfriends before they are emotionally ready. There is also the pressure to perform sexually, through information gained online, which was never an issue for previous generations."

Brodnock emphasises: "Parents should take responsibility for the media that their children are exposed to, using filters on phones, devices and pcs, as well as monitoring what they watch on television."

But if your child does have a girlfriend or boyfriend how should you react?

Reith – a mum of three daughters - is keen to point out, "If your child at primary school says they have a girlfriend or boyfriend, you should investigate what it means, but if parents try to ban a relationship then it makes it all the more attractive.

"We all know how it feels to fall in love or have a huge crush on someone, but if this becomes too serious before the age of 16 there is the risk it will prevent young people from making other friends, having a social life outside of the relationship, and their academic work may suffer too."

Brodnock is all for talking to your child. "Children who form early sexual relationships often have low self-esteem because they look to someone else to 'complete' them. This can lead later in life to the formation of high dependency relationships."

She favours creating a time each week when your child has an 'amnesty': a time when they can tell you what they are thinking and feeling without you being judgemental. This helps parents become aware of relationships that might exist and how to foresee any problems.

Similarly, Reith suggests talking about relationships generally. "Talk about the relationships that are on television, in films and books and discuss how they feel about them, without it becoming personal."

Many children have friends of both genders throughout primary and secondary school. It's important to encourage your child to develop friendships with children of all genders and not label what may be platonic friendships as anything else. Having friends of the same and opposite sex is part of discovering who you are and how to make the right choices later in life.

Certainly, if your child appears to have an unusually close or inappropriate relationship at primary school or even in Years 7 and 8, it is worth talking to their teachers, because your child's academic work or other friendships may be affected.

The pressure on young teens to have a relationship - and even a sexual one - is often created by the media and many children feel they ought to have a boyfriend or girlfriend by a certain age to prove their attractiveness. Building your child's self esteem so they don't need to go down that road too soon will help.

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Having a Girlfriend or Boyfriend at a Young Age


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