Dating is not for preteens

Published 10:41 pm Tuesday, October 22, 2019

By Nathan Rice

She asked, “Did you hear me and Jack are dating?” I responded with a simple, “Yes, I heard.”

She continued by saying, “We liked each other for a while, but he finally asked me out. I kind of liked him for a while, and I thought he liked me, but it turned out he ‘likes-likes’ me, and I ‘like-like’ him.”

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They were now boyfriend and girlfriend, and it was the first time either one of them held that title. Many parents and caring adults allow and encourage preteens to enter into dating-type relationships, but I fear these relationships are doing more harm than most realize.

First, we should realize that preteens are not emotionally mature enough to handle these types of relationships. Romantic relationships are difficult for the most mature adults, so why would we think preteens are prepared to handle them? Why are we allowing our kids to enter into relationships they are not yet ready to handle?

January Marshall, a day treatment counselor for fifth- and sixth-graders, recently wrote, “Most preteens are at an age where their emotions are all over the place. In addition, most, if not all, do not have the brain development to handle even basic emotions. They are not equipped to handle adult-like relationships. Nor are they equipped to handle the complex emotions that come with them.”

We should be teaching our preteens how to handle their emotions and how to handle everyday relationships with their teachers, family and friends instead of placing them in situations that will only complicate things they already don’t understand. We would not enroll our children in Algebra 2 before they have taken Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1, so why are we allowing them to enter into romantic relationships before they have learned how to handle everyday relationships?

These everyday relationships are already difficult for preteens, and life is changing dramatically for them during these years. Adding a romantic-type relationship to the mix is more than they are prepared to handle.

Next, we are allowing the hearts of our children to be repeatedly broken before they even reach the age when they are able to seriously consider the type of person they want to be with for the rest of their lives. Heartbreaks and broken relationships are a part of dating that is nearly impossible to avoid. Why are we allowing our children to place themselves in this position before it is needed?

Children who have had their hearts repeatedly broken in romantic relationships throughout their early years will enter their young adult years, when they can truly begin looking for a spouse, with a heart that is damaged and scarred from these previous, early relationships.

There’s nothing wrong with a preteen having a crush on someone. That’s normal, and it’s bound to happen. The problem starts when they enter adult-like, romantic relationships that they are not prepared to handle.

It is time for America to re-evaluate our stance on allowing preteens to date. It may appear cute and harmless, but anyone who works with kids will tell you that these relationships cause more harm than most people realize.

Mrs. Marshall put it well when she said, “A true relationship is more than a social media status update, a Snapchat rating, or ‘because all my friends think it’s cool.’ It’s work. It’s hard. And it’s not for kids.”

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at