[Note: Previously published on my blog: My Two Cents]
BOYS!!! From what S tells me, the whole sixth grade gang of girls has discovered them. Only as preteen girls of 11 and 12 can :) Some are "going steady" some have "boyfriends" and some, like S, just like a boy from afar. In her own words - "I only LIKE him. It's not like I LOVE him or anything. Or that I cannot live without him". Well, I am glad to see you still have your head on your shoulders honey :P What makes things more interesting is that T, the boy S likes, is "going out" with D who is one of S' good friends. But S claims that it doesn't bother her because she only likes T and doesn't expect him to like her back. Sigh! I never expected that kind of level-headed thinking from any of MY girls!!
This all came out last night when I mentioned in the passing that I had heard a girl we know, "A" (who is in sixth grade as well), had a boyfriend. I was immediately provided with the intricate details of who is going out with whom, who likes whom and who broke up with whom. After that session I could feel my head swimming. There is no way I can keep up with these preteens' busy social lives!
That also brought a question from S. "What would your reaction be if I told you that I have a boyfriend?" I can't say that I wasn't expecting it. Or I should say I was prepared with an answer - only, I was not expecting it this early. I told S I'd be fine with it as long as she doesn't hide it from me and her dad. I also wanted to tell her that if she feels ashamed or nervous about introducing a boy to us, he probably is not boyfriend material but I thought I'd leave that for later discussions.
I know some of our friends will probably be shocked at the "westernized" way we are bringing our daughter up. Good Indian girls don't have boyfriends. They don't even know about the birds and the bees until they get married :) Okay, so they are not THAT innocent but going by the reaction of a few parents in our group, to mentions of boyfriends and kissing etc. it is clear that, according to them, Indian girls should maintain their "Indian-ness". They should not blindly follow the western culture. Never mind that they are living in the freaking middle of the said culture. And truthfully, I have come across plenty of American moms who are pretty worried about keeping their girls away from boys. One such mom mentioned to me that she doesn't remind her daughter about a friend (who is a boy, of course) whom she grew up with because, FRANKLY, she doesn't want her thinking about boys yet.
Edited to add: On second thought, maybe some of these friends don't exactly think that an Indian girl should not have a boyfriend. Maybe they, like me, think it is too early at 11/12 to think of boyfriends. But I say you cannot stop them from thinking. You can only control your reaction to it and with it, hopefully, still make your kids secure enough to come and confide in you.
Well, I have news for you mom!! If your daughter is a sixth grader, she IS thinking about boys. She was probably thinking about them in fifth grade too. (I had my first crush at the ripe old age of 10!!) Maybe she still has that innocence and isn't thinking of having a boyfriend yet, but the other girls around her ARE thinking and talking about boys so, believe me, your daughter is too. In that case wouldn't it be better to keep the communication channels open and LET your daughter talk (and think out loud) about boys a little? Just so you can provide a little guidance to her at an age when she needs it the most. Now, I think this American mom is pretty cool and is probably already doing all this. (S thinks she is AWESOME!!!!!! - all the exclamation marks and the bold print intended :P) Maybe she just mentioned it to me as the way of expressing an opinion about such young girls dating. But I do see this attitude in many other parents - specially within our Indian circle. NO boys! NO sex! NO drugs! NO alcohol! Well, I do agree that our kids are better off without the latter three. But I am not naive enough to believe that just because I say no, my child will comply. So I make sure that I say no, I explain why and then I also tell her that she can still come to me if she does slip and make a mistake. I tell her it is okay to talk about ANYTHING with me. I show her that she can talk to me about anything by not having a strong negative reaction to something she tells me, no matter how much it shocks me. By making her feel secure that no matter what she says to me, I will not judge her.
One couple is determined to return to India by the time their older child turns 6 or 7 just because "the Western influence spoils the kids here and then they are no longer under your control". I could argue against this point on so many levels! First - Western influence spoils the kids??! For the record, I have seen enough American kids who have their heads screwed on right, and have the right priorities. I have also seen Indian kids born and brought up in America who make the right choices and have some sense. I know that kids in India are not entirely free of the "Western influence". There are as much drugs and sex problems among teens in India as there are here. Second - WHY would you want your kids under your (absolute) control?? [The friend in question mentioned that in India neighbors and relatives can help you keep an eye on the kids and report everything they do, to you. That IS absolute control in my opinion] Your job as a parent should be to teach them the right values, point them in the right direction and let them find their own path. And be there to support them when they stumble or fall. Your job, as a parent, is NOT to MAKE their path for them. Or to be the sentry on that path, keeping a strict eye and preventing them from making any mistakes. In my opinion, mistakes help us grow as a person, but that is neither here nor there and certainly not the point of this post. Third - do they expect their kids to escape all these influences in India??! And do they think they cannot influence their own kids during their formative years here, in America?? Kids look up to us a lot more than they let on, really.
So, to come back to the post, S and I talked about a lot of things. At one point she told me about a girl in her class who has already been "through FIVE boyfriends!!" I took that opportunity to explain to S that given their age and inexperience in life in general, it IS a good idea not to bind yourself to or to go steady with just one person. If you don't hang out with a number of friends (who are boys), how WILL you know if the boy you like and want to go steady with, IS your kind of boy?
I also met with her guidance counselor at school to discuss some recent teasing S had been subjected to. When I told him that S had come to me and told me about the teasing his first comment was "You must be doing a great job if your daughter still comes to you to discuss her problems at this age". It hit me then! Maybe my attempts at keeping the communication channels open ARE working! All I need to do now is KEEP them open.
Easier said than done!
What about you? How do you keep the communication going between yourself and your children? What would your reaction be if your 11 year old daughter came to you and said she likes a boy? Or if your 12 year old son came and told you he likes a girl? What DO you think about middle school kids and dating? I personally think it is too early at 11 or 12 but I also know that my saying so will not deter them. (Having friends of the opposite sex is okay in my eyes) Share your strategies with me. I am new at this "parenting a preteen" gig!!