My 11-year-old daughter has been buddies with a guy friend of hers, “John,” for a few years now. They walk to school together, play video games together, and have a comfortable, casual relationship. I’ve never thought twice about their interactions — until recently.
We were at the ball park a few nights ago, watching my son’s Little League team. The older siblings of the players were running around in a nearby area, clearly not interested in the game. What they were interested in, apparently, was each other. My daughter, “John,” and some other tweens decided to pass the time playing “Truth or Dare,” clearly unaware I was listening. The whole thing was pretty innocent, but my ears did prick at hearing the “dare” about having the kids hug each other. It didn’t happen, but still.
The whole thing put me on high alert. Whereas once I wouldn’t bat an eyelash about my daughter hanging with her guy friend, I’m now wondering if her “playdates” have suddenly turned into “dates.” Call me woefully slow on the uptake, but I thought 11 was a little early to be worried about this. Guess not.
So what do you do if your tween daughter (or son) has an opposite-sex buddy, and wants to hang out with them, like always, but you’re hesitant? Here are a few tips:
Pay closer attention to how they act: The “truth or dare” incident made me pay much closer attention to my daughter’s newfound interest in boys that way. Watch how your child interacts with his or her opposite-sex friend. Are they suddenly nervous or flustered? Louder or more withdrawn than usual? Are they “touchier”? I noticed this behavior while watching a bunch of fifth graders at my neighborhood pool recently. These kids, who normally stayed far apart, suddenly were enjoying piggy-back rides and hanging all over each other — their way, I suppose, of “legally” being able to touch. Is your child doing the same?
Make sure they’re supervised: Where at one time, like, a year ago, I’d be OK with my daughter and her friend playing video games alone in the rec room, I’m now a little more aware. So the rule is, if she hangs out with her friend, a parent must be around, preferably in the same room. And she is not allowed in his bedroom to play, ever, nor vice-versa.
Fill in the other parents: A lot of parents may think 11 is pretty young to worry about opposite-sex friendships becoming an issue. Clearly, it’s not. As innocent as the “truth or dare” game was, I made sure to fill in “John’s” mom, so she’d know what was up. Better to have more eyes on the kids, than not enough.
It’s normal for tweens to start becoming interested in their opposite-sex friends, even kids they’ve known for years. Just pay attention so you know when that shift might be happening; it could change how you see “playdates” forever.