My daughter is in 3rd grade and has had a crush (her words) on a boy in her class all school year (he has not said that he likes her and she hasn't said that to him). They hang out, along with other kids, during recess but don't see each other outside school. Eight years old seems awfully young to me to be so vocal about liking somebody (although I remember liking a boy as early as first grade, but I certainly didn't tell my mother about it!). What should I say to her when she talks about her crush? Is this typical for her age? Thanks.
From: Barbara, Braintree
First crushes have long been considered a rite of passage, a sign that a girl (or boy) is newly aware of her or his "romantic" side, so yes, preteen crushes are very much a typical part of a development, a step on the ladder to understanding about relationships.
Is it sexual? No? Is it an attraction? Sure. There's something about the person that awakens a new feeling in a boy or a girl that they identify as love. Of course, it's very typical for the object of the crush to be totally unaware. As Margaret Sagarese and Charlene Giannetti write in their book, "Boy Crazy!", for a preteen girl, the boy himself is often incidental, serving more as a prop, someone to pin these new-found emotions on.
Should you be concerned? Probably not, but Valentine's Day is coming up and that'll give you a clue.
Here's the problem. Girls and boys haven't changed, but the culture in which they are growing up has: Our culture today is awash in sexuality (See "So Sexy So Soon" by Diane Levin & Jean Kilbourne), and it can produce premature pressure for preteens, especially girls, to show interest -- or to pretend interest -- in things romantic and sexual.
As Nancy Gruver once said to me, "The culture is providing the script before [girls] have the hormones to go with it."
So how should you handle your daughter's crush? As nonchalantly as possible.
Don't pooh-pooh it, forbid it, or make her self-conscious. On the other hand, don't encourage it with comments like, "Isn't that cute?" or, "How's your boyfriend today?" Instead, ask questions that get some values about relationships on the table, for instance, the importance of shared interests ("What is it that makes you like him? Is he good at math, like you are? Does he like to run like you do?).
I said the run-up to Valentine's Day will offer some clues whether you need to be concerned or not. Here's what to keep in mind: It's not the singling out of a particular boy that's a red flag, it's what the singling out looks like. Does she want to give him her picture? In a heart-shaped frame? Does she want a "special" Valentine card for him? These would be over-the-top for a third grader.
A good response: "These are thoughtful things to do when you care about someone, but it's for when you are older." In other words, you aren't questioning her feelings but her age. If she says he's her boyfriend, tell her, "You're too young for a boyfriend. You can give him the same that you give to your best girl friend."
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