A male co-worker of mine recently had “the talk” with his son, which immediately sent me into hyperventilation mode as I imagined the day it would be my turn to do the same. He explained how his son believed that only married people were able to have children, and that one could simply have a baby by “…holding hands and being in love.” While thankfully this is not true (can you imagine the overpopulation problem), it did bring to light just how misinformed children are. And rightfully so! They should carry an element of innocence with them until a certain age...preferably marriage. So how old was the little boy in the above story? 8 years old. A second grader. That is ONLY two years older than my son (insert panic mode).
When should kids be allowed to go on their first date? Should it be supervised? Should sex education be taught in schools? And if so, at what age? And how young is too young to expose children to these topics? Ugh, I don’t know! I’m with the vast majority of parents who hate to even think about their kids growing up and starting to date, let alone doing anything else! So whatever your personal stance on dating and sex education is, it doesn’t really matter (for the purpose of this article anyways). This isn’t about laws and regulations and school policy. This is simply an article that addresses HOW to approach this subject when the time is right for your family, based on some really great advice I’ve heard along the way. I'm just trying to do my motherly duty and pass it along.
Do you remember in high school when we thought dating was hard? Ha! I chuckle at the thought now… there was no Facebook or Instagram to document our every #ootd or #mcm, no Snapchat to capture 5 second glimpses into our everyday life, cyberbullying wasn’t even a word yet, and texting (let alone “sexting”), had yet to exist. Kids today do NOT have it easy. We were pansies.
I am often conflicted when I image how to approach the topic of dating with my son. We all know the likelihood of a 16-year-old relationship going the distance, yet, try telling that to a love-struck teenager. Your words will fall on deaf ears. So do you let your child live and learn from their mistakes? Do you micro-manage the dating pool they are allowed to choose from? WARNING: Subject to backfire … this coming from the girl who dated all the wrong guys. Or do you ban dating all together until they’re 18 by throwing in the (totally infuriating cliche) “my house, my rules”? After careful contemplation, I actually think that none of these are the best answer.
How about this instead? Rather than coaching your child on what not to do, or how not to experience heartbreak, or how to avoid love all together, try this. Have them instead focus on becoming the type of person that would attract the type of person they are looking for… you know, that silly ol' concept… I think they call it the Law of Attraction.
I realize Jerry McGuire taught us differently. The “…you complete me” scene is as tear-jerking for me as it is for every other hopeless soul out there, but in real-life, you shouldn’t be looking for someone to complete you. Stand up on your own two feet and be a whole person by yourself. Teach your child the same.
What’s wrong with Jerry’s theory? Well, for starters, two halves does not a whole make. I know that simple addition tells us otherwise, but dating is much more complex than addition, so strike those rules. If one kid gets 50% on his Math homework and another gets 50% on her Math homework, together these two do not make the next greatest Math whiz duo. They actually make a couple of kids who are going to be sitting through Mrs. Lopez’s math class again, but this time with their younger peers.
In dating and relationships, the trick is to be the person you want to find so that when the right person strolls into the picture (or gallops in atop a white stallion), they are looking for you as much as you are for them.
This concept is perhaps a little advanced for younger and middle school children, but kids never cease to amaze me with what they know and understand. Go ahead and water it down into a simpler form if need be.
So how do you help your kiddo get started on becoming the person they want to meet/date/marry? Have them write down five things that are non-negotiable in the person they want to someday marry (i.e. hardworking, honest, Husker fan… you get the idea). And for the mommies out there with daughters, try to have them go deeper than tall, dark, and handsome; this isn't a tryout for The Bachelor. These five qualities are the things they should look for in the people they date, because otherwise, they are just wasting their time… and in all likelihood, setting themselves up for massive heartbreak down the road. Once they have their five non-negotiables, tell them to stop looking for that person! Instead of seeking someone out, they need to become the person they seek to find. Voila. Obviously, this is much harder to do in practice than it is in theory, but it’s a starting point.
I know this all sounds cliché and cheesy, and if you have young teens, they are undoubtedly eight eye rolls deep by now… but stay with me. If you really spend some time thinking about it, this all makes perfect sense. That “really awesome guy” is likely looking for a “really awesome girl” who shares his same passions and values. If you’re too busy dating Mr. Worthless-Sagging-Pants-Zero-Ambition-Bad-Boy, that really good guy will pass you right by when he sees you. Why? Because who you date is a reflection of who you are.
If the dating topic had you break into a cold sweat, then this topic may take you over the edge. Let’s throwback to Salt-N-Pepa and talk about sex baby.
ABCNews conducted a poll recently and found that kids as young as 13 (ahem, that’s middle-schoolers) were engaging in casual sex. Say what?! So if you planned on waiting until your kid went through sex education in like 6th grade, think again. Sex is becoming more and more causal and the stigma around it seems to be that “everyone is doing it, so what’s the big deal.” Now, whatever you plan to teach your child, whether it be abstinence, monogamy, or about practicing safe sex for when the time comes, regardless, there still needs to be a conversation at some point. The uninformed are almost always misinformed.
The best analogy in regards to having sex was something I learned in church. (If you are not religious, this is still very relevant, so hang in there). Think of sex in terms of tape. Not wimpy tape like Scotch tape, but strong, manly tape… like duct tape. When you have sex for the first time, you attach to that person (females attach more strongly than males, in most cases). As time wears on and high school turns into college, and college turns into living in your parent’s basement, and basement-life turns into sorta-getting-serious dating, and sorta-serious dating finally turns into marriage-material dating, the tape gets stuck to more and more people and consequently gets less and less sticky over time. You have formed “attachments” to so many people that eventually your tape doesn’t stick as well as it used to. It is easier to break apart from relationships and go your separate ways with less and less attachment. Make sense?
Now, image a second person who has also lived a life of casual sex and a no-holds-back type of attitude. You are bringing two very unsticky pieces of tape to the table, that when stuck together, can barely bond. Contrast this with two people who have either waited to have sex until marriage (or have made much wiser and more selective decisions throughout their dating lives). Two new pieces of tape will always stick to each other tighter and bond entirely different than two worn out ones.
Your spirit, your soul, that inner character that makes you, YOU, is sticky. It is impossible to not attach to someone when you do something as intimate as sex. If you wait and attach to the right person, you have an exponentially better chance of bonding with them and actually sticking.
Moral of the story: Your spirit is like tape; it’s sticky. Sticky tape attaches to things, whether you want it to or not. Save your stickiness for something (or someone) who is worth being stuck to. Sticky tape beats non-sticky tape any day of the week.
Dating and sex go hand in hand. If you can effectively coach your child into becoming the kind of person they want to find and date someday, they will have that much better of a chance to find someone appropriate to attach themselves to, when and if the time is right.
These subjects can be sticky (seriously no pun intended), but they are necessary to have. I tremble at the thought of having these conversations with my son too, but it is exactly the kind of advice I want to arm him with. The dating world is hard and it’s only getting harder. And even though pop culture and the vast majority of society leans one way, that doesn’t always mean it’s the right way.
I want my son to become the type of person that his dream girl will see someday and say, “yep, that’s him.” I do not want his teen years cut short by an unplanned pregnancy, or for him to become a dad before I’m even sending him off to college. I do not want him to go through unnecessary heartbreak if he doesn’t have to.
I have no plans to baby him throughout his life and make his decisions for him, but I do plan to provide him with the best information possible so that he can be well informed rather than misinformed, and so that he can make smart decisions rather than popular decisions.