You know your daughter’s heart flutters every time she sees that darling blonde-headed boy as she gets on the school bus. She runs her fingers through her hair and quickly asks her bestie Liz if her new headband is really all that cute? She shifts nervously waiting for the bus to come to a stop, quickly glancing to that spot where he usually sits and praying their eyes don’t meet. As you sit back and watch from afar, you secretly wonder how to bring up the topic with your 11-year-old daughter. She’s too young for crushes, right? Wrong.
Cupid’s arrow can strike with simple crushes as early as Kindergarten. And, those vulnerable days, weeks and months before love ever latches on, if at all, can be volatile, especially for the already angst-ridden teen. The question for parents is, how do you help your kids deal with those heart-stopping feelings of infatuation?
“Ideally, I wouldn’t be worried about dealing with crushes and dating for my girls when they are at such a young age,” says Wendy Kumpula, mom to Kassady, aged 14, and DeLaney, aged 13. “However, since when is the world ideal?”
Wendy, a mom of five, has taken a proactive approach with her only girls.
“I have had conversations with Kassidy explaining why I don’t encourage exclusive relationships at a young age,” she explains. “I feel, as young women, there is so much they are already going through with hormones and emotions, and to add dealing with broken hearts or jealously is a lot.”
Wendy came up with dating guidelines and has done her best to nurture a relationship with her girls based first on honesty, all while empowering her daughters to trust their own choices and, for her part, to be understanding when they need her to be other than judgmental.
She works hard to instill a healthy self esteem in both of her daughters. “It’s important to me that my girls understand to respect themselves enough to hold themselves to high moral standards,” Wendy admits. “I also feel a healthy self-esteem will help protect them from seeking an unhealthy relationship.”
Stellar parenting aside, the pain is still ever-present when your teen is in the throes of a crush.
It was in the sixth grade that Wendy’s daughter Kassady was hit with her first major crush. “I had a crush on him because he was funny,” Kassady says. The feeling was mutual and before long, the two were texting back and forth non-stop. “But while celebrating my birthday,” Kassady continues, “I found out that I was being dumped for my best friend at the time. That hurt my feelings and had a negative impact on my friendship with my best friend. This was the first memorable experience that I had with jealousy and I didn’t like it.”
What a difference just one year makes. Kassady’s sister, DeLaney, is 13 and feels as yet unaffected by her crushes.
“I have had quite a few crushes that really haven’t affected me,” she admits. “If and when I find out that feelings aren’t returned, I just find someone else. I’m only 13 so I haven’t experienced actual dating outside friendships at school.”
The end goal for mom?
“I have strong, beautiful girls and I have thus far been impressed with their friendships,” Wendy says. “It has shown me that they have good judgment. I feel nothing can replace being present in their relationships.
For Kassady’s part, she’s on the right track. “I’ve never cried over a boy yet. It hasn’t been worth it. Mascara is too expensive to waste!”
Not everyone escapes emotionally unscathed. Kalle is one such very broken-hearted teen.
“I liked Konnor* when I was in eighth grade,” 14-year-old Kalle begins. “He was funny and really nice. I knew he didn’t like me back. Someone told me he called me fat and ugly, so I got really upset and ended up crying because of it.”
That’s when Kalle decided to approach Konnor through social media.
“I decided to ask him through Facebook if he said it,” she continues. “He said he never said that and never would so I trusted him and asked what he thought about me and he said I was nice and kind and not ugly which made it kind of better and made me a little happier. He said he feels really bad that someone would tell me he said that.”
Even though Konnor doesn’t have feelings for her, he still kindles a flame in Kalle’s heart. “He went to TWIRP with a girl I knew this year and it hurts a lot. He acts like I don’t exist, but I’m trying to get over him because everyone says he’s not worth it.”
For Kalle’s mom, Carrie Barrigan, she’s tried to empower her daughter to be strong and to expect some heartache and disappointment at this tender time of her life.
“She never really mentioned it at the time but I have always told her that junior high will be the hardest and most trying times of her school years and that (getting crushed) will be part of it.”
Billings counselor, Gwen Felten, of Northwest Counseling Center, specializes in individual counseling for children, teens and adults. She says when it comes to helping your kids handle their first crush, there are some do’s and don’ts.
Model in your own life how you want your son to treat a lady or how your daughter should be treated with respect from a young man. One of the cornerstones in a healthy relationship is honor and respect. When a child can learn how to treat others of the opposite sex with honor and respect, they will have healthy relationships.
Too many parents put off having conversations about dating. Often these are the children who tend to get in over their heads in dating. No one helped them to think about boundaries in a relationship, or how to handle their emotions.
Some parents set unrealistic boundaries, such as with the age they can start dating. Often, this is when kids rebel. Agree to dating boundaries that are healthy and reasonable. Find a healthy balance.
Spend some time just being with your child. Hopefully the child will see their significance in the world doesn’t come from dating but how they are so significant in your life. Show empathy. It is painful to go through these life circumstances, but we have all been there and we all grow.
*Names with the exception of Kalle have been changed to protect the identities of her friends and crushes involved.