Monday, June 12, 2023

Middle School Stuff #4: Crushes and Dating


This series of posts explores the tricky side of middle school. Here’s post #4 – Crushes and Dating. If you missed earlier posts, here are links: #1 – Judgment, #2 – Friendship Changes, and #3 – Popularity.

While researching Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised, I visited 7th-grade classrooms and talked with students about school social dynamics. When I asked preteens to share middle school’s “tricky” aspects, “crushes and dating” came up often.

Middle School Student Thoughts About Crushes

Many students thought the social scene surrounding crushes was entertaining. Some students are involved in this scene, and others are not. In my book, Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised, I include a “Crush Scale” to help kids know this is normal. “Who likes who” is fodder for gossip and sometimes social drama, whether students are into crushes or not. 

Middle School Student Thoughts About Dating

When students discussed the “dating scene,” their feedback was more discerning. Here are some student comments:

  • “Kids are ‘dating,’ but they don’t even talk to each other. They just want to say they are dating.”
  • “Kids date to seem mature and cool and to gain social status. Appearance and popularity drive dating.”
  • “Some kids are into dating, but most actually are not.”
  • “Kids would rather just hang out with friends instead of date, but they feel pressured.”

Students found the dating scene “tricky” for two main reasons. First, they shared that there was peer pressure to date in middle school. A 7th-grade student shared, “Dances would be much better without this pressure. If somebody dances with someone, everyone thinks they ‘like’ each other and pesters them about dating.”

Second, students shared that there is status tied to dating, so some kids and social groups are involved in dating and not others. Because dating is linked to status, this adds to the pressure some kids feel to date in order to gain or maintain social status. 

How Students Navigate This Scene in Middle School

I asked students what advice they would give to help other students navigate the crushes and dating scene. Their responses were insightful:

  • “Best not to tell anyone your crush unless you really trust them.”
  • “If you don’t talk to or know someone, don’t date them.”
  • “My parents don’t allow me to date. To be honest, this gives me a good excuse to stay out of it.”

Helping Kids Navigate the Crushes and Dating Scene in Middle School

Because tweens are at different developmental stages in middle school, their interests in crushes and dating are widely diverse. Whether they experience crushes or not, let them know that their feelings are okay. The “Crush Scale” from Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised normalizes that all experiences are okay and normal. 

If they express interest in dating, ask questions about their feelings and whether they feel pressure from their peers or are genuinely interested. Ask what “dating” means in their school. In many middle schools, dating involves texting each other rather than going on dates. Gain a better understanding of the relationship and continue family conversations about healthy communication and relationship skills.

In conclusion, middle school kids often straddle late childhood behaviors while also beginning to explore adolescent behaviors. Caregivers play an essential role in listening to tweens without judgment as they navigate changes in themselves and others. When caregivers create a safe space for tweens and teens to share about themselves and their experiences, kids are more likely to share and listen to the guidance of parents. 

About Jessica Speer:

Jessica Speer is the highly acclaimed author of BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships and Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised. Her interactive books for preteens and teens entertain readers while exploring social-emotional topics. Blending humor, stories, and insights, her writing unpacks the social stuff that surfaces during childhood and adolescence. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores topics in ways that connect with kids. Jessica is regularly featured in and contributes to media outlets on topics related to kids, teens parenting, and friendship. For more information, visit www.JessicaSpeer.com

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