At what age would you let your child have a boyfriend or girlfriend?

When should kids start dating someone, or have a romantic relationship? We asked 1,427 parents what they think - and get expert advice from an educational psychologist

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If you have older kids, you’ll know it seems like the blink of an eye between them being babies and being teenagers. But boy, how things change during that blink!

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Suddenly, they’re typical teens – hormonal – and that’s when you could find you have a child who is boy or girl crazy  ? on your hands.

So, at what age would you let your not-so-little-one take the plunge, and have an official boyfriend or girlfriend?

When we asked 1,427 parents about this, the most popular answers were: 

  • Over 12 (51%)
  • Not sure (26%)
  • 11 (5%)

What did our parents say?

When we probed further, lots of parents agreed that children often have ‘boyfriends’ or ‘girlfriends’ younger, but the relationship is not serious.

“I think that children think they have a boyfriend or girlfriend but it is not for real!” said one parent.

Another agreed: “Depends on the seriousness of the relationship. I had many relationships in primary school and it was more just a novelty curiosity of holding hands than anything.”

Others felt that when their child was older, they’d let them have a boyfriend or girlfriend but, in one parent’s words, they’d ‘watch them like a hawk’.

What does the expert say? 

We checked in with Educational Psychologist Naomi Burgess on this one, who commented that, as parents, generally we all want to teach our children how to make positive relationships which enhance their self-esteem, develop their empathic and nurturing sides, and respect for others. 

“Often and suddenly,” she goes on, “a friendship can become more intense, – irrespective of your child’s age – and they may want to use the words ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’, whether it is a same-sex relationship or boy/girl relationship.

“How you handle this transition to exclusivity is important. So rather than say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, why not enter into a dialogue with them?

“Make sure you listen carefully to how they feel, why they might want to give their special friendship a ‘name’, explore how they feel about the appearance of being exclusive, how their broader circle of friends might feel, how they will respect each other’s feelings, how they might feel if they break up…and anything else that arises.

“After all, the major role model they have is you or the family. So do make sure the ’you’ they see is the ‘you’ that you would like them to become, and by guiding them in their expressions of friendship, you are offering them a great future.”

Images: Getty Images

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