When your 10-year-old is 'dating' ...
"Over the past couple of months, boys and girls in the [school] have started asking each other ‘out’." Photo: Getty Images
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from my daughter’s school, addressed to the parents of all Year 5 students.
The email was entitled ‘A Sensitive Matter’, and though the subject line was cryptic, I knew exactly what it referred to. My daughter had told me of a recent talk they’d had at school, and I had been waiting for the follow up email.
The talk wasn’t on puberty – they'd had that talk the previous year. And it wasn’t on bullying, as they’ve covered that many times. The talk was on a far more delicate topic. Dating in Year 5.
Over the past couple of months, boys and girls in the year have started asking each other ‘out’. This doesn’t mean actually going anywhere; at 10 and 11 years old, these kids are too young to go to the movies alone, let alone go out to dinner. It meant being boyfriend and girlfriend, a couple, what we used to call ‘going round together’ back in the Dark Ages 80’s when I was a teen.
My daughter still talks to me about everything, so I knew this ‘dating’ was going on. I felt uncomfortable when she first told me about it, I mean, they're kids for goodness sake. The couples didn't spend time alone together, so it didn’t seem dangerous in any way; it just seemed unnecessary at this age, and a little inappropriate.
“I think you’re too young to date,” I told my daughter, and she agreed. Until a couple of weeks later, when she came home with some news.
“Mathew* asked me out,” she told me. Matt is one of her best friends, an adorable ten year old with whom she plays Minecraft online.
“Oh,” I said, not at all sure how I felt about my baby girl having a boyfriend. “What did you say?”
“Well, he’s my really good friend anyway, so it’s almost like he’s my boyfriend, so I said yes.”
“Did you, um... kiss him or anything?” I asked.
“Ew, no!” she cried, and skipped off into the other room. She was happy, it was all innocent fun, and I decided to give her my blessing.
About a week into their romance - which consisted of Skype messages and games at recess - the entire Year 5 were summoned in for a Talk. The school counsellor addressed them about the issue of relationships. Best at this stage, she said, not to label relationships as 'boyfriend and girlfriend'. Best at this stage, she said, to just be each others' friends.
A day or two later, the email arrived.
The school was concerned, it said, about the kids being sexualised too young. The school was concerned about the kids feeling pressured into relationships that were too mature for their stage of life. How would they deal with being rejected, with ending relationships, or with having to hurt another person's feelings?
I thought very carefully about the issue, and initially, I sided with the school. The kids were too young for these kind of experiences. If they were experimenting with 'going out' at ten and eleven, how would they be experimenting at twelve or thirteen?
But then I spoke with my daughter. "What happened after the talk?" I asked.
"Well, Katy said that it doesn't matter what the school says, Jake is still her boyfriend. And I guess Matt is still my boyfriend, too."
And I realized, whatever the school thinks, there's nothing they can do to stop the kids from dating - or at least, nothing that won't drive them further into each other's arms (metaphorically speaking**). And I realised that it didn't really bother me at all.The kids aren't being sexual. They're playing, testing out new roles, working out how they feel about the world and each other. The rest will come later, whether they're allowed to play now or not.
And to be perfectly honest, I wish I'd had a boyfriend at that age. Sadly, though, none of the boys I liked ever liked me back.
I can't help but feel happy that my daughter doesn't have the same problem.
*not his real name
**I bloody well hope