The Parent ’Hood: Middle school ‘girlfriend’ can be a healthy thing - The Buffalo News

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The Parent ’Hood: Middle school ‘girlfriend’ can be a healthy thing

Your seventh-grader has a girlfriend. You, a late bloomer, are tongue-tied. What to say?

Parent advice:

Talk openly and honestly about sex, relationships, respect and responsibility. Encourage dialogue by not acting uncomfortable or shocked. Answer questions; encourage those questions by explaining that you would rather be the person who answers them than your son’s young, inexperienced friends.

– Dodie Hofstetter

Remind him that girls are people, too. Tell him that he should treat the girlfriend like he’d want to be treated – with kindness, respect, consideration. And, most important, remind him never, ever, to engage in locker-room banter or boasting.

– Bill Daley

Expert advice:

“Girlfriend is a very loosely defined term in middle school,” said Michelle Icard, author of the upcoming “Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years” (Bibliomotion). “Begin by asking your son, ‘What does it mean to have a girlfriend?’ ”

Actually, scratch that. Begin by checking your facial expression.

“Parents should have a really neutral expression about it because this is an area of deep sensitivity for kids, and they can easily feel judged,” Icard said. “They’re judged all day long by their peers, and by the time they get home they’re exhausted. As soon as a kid senses judgment from a parent, the conversation’s over. They’re walking away.”

Find out whether your son and his pals call it “going out” or “talking to” or some other term.

“You don’t want to come across as so out of touch that you don’t even know what it’s called,” Icard said. “That’s another quick way to end the conversation.”

Most middle school relationships, Icard said, don’t involve a lot of action.

“It typically doesn’t mean much more than they text each other,” she said. “It may mean he wants to take her on a date, depending on his personality.”

If they do want to go somewhere together, resist the urge to suggest a group outing.

“A lot of parents think there’s safety in numbers, but telling your son he has to go out in a big group tends to backfire,” Icard said. “Kids feel a lot of pressure to impress their social tribes. So if they’re teasing and daring them, they’re more likely to go along than if they were just alone and terrified of each other.”

A girlfriend or boyfriend, however loose the term, can be a healthy thing in middle school because it allows boys a break from playing the tough boy and girls a break from girl drama, Icard said.

“It lets them feel that excitement and confidence that comes from knowing that, within this really complicated social scene, somebody really likes you.”

Have a solution? Your spouse wants to pay the kids for straight As. You don’t. Who’s right? Find “The Parent ‘Hood” page on Facebook to post your parenting questions and solutions.

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